I recently had a falling out with a customer. He had pushed me too far and I finally refused to do any more work.
The problem was simple. He would absolutely refuse to pay the original quoted price – no matter how discounted or competitive it was. He would refuse my standard turnaround times – always demanding it faster. If I didn’t concede, then he would phone continuously making fresh demands and taking up time with new questions and quotations.
It didn’t help that none of his jobs ever went smoothly. Doing it cut price and on-the-fly meant mistakes occurred and quality sometimes suffered. He said he understood this, but would then use it as a stick to beat us with next time around.
In short, he was just one of those bad customers you get. The ones that your business is much better without. End of story.
Or did I create the monster?
Now I am not saying that this customer isn’t naturally a complete nightmare – I am sure he causes problems for everyone he works with. However, I can’t escape the feeling that I may also be more than partly responsible.
Thinking back to his first job, he had asked for a discount. He was, afterall, going to be doing significantly more work with us in future and would pay upfront. Keen for the work I had agreed. It was also on a tight deadline, and to help out I had pulled some strings to make it happen.
Great customer service? Not really. In this first transaction I had unwittingly set down the rules for all future transactions. I had given him an unrealistic expectation of cost – if I had discounted it first time, why couldn’t I do it second time?, or third time?. I had proved to him that published turnaround times could be beaten – so why wouldn’t I beat them next time?
In short I had given him unrealistic expectations and when we failed to meet those expectations the relationship had suffered and so had both of us. His company was not being delivered the service and goods they were planning on. Our company was losing money and time on every order.
This scenario is not unique to B2B or personal interactions. It is just as easy to create bad customers through your advertising and other literature. Overly attractive new customer offers, misphrased promises, hidden terms and conditions, photos which don’t reflect the reality, made-up testimonials, changing product specifications . . . all these are a recipe for creating the same kind of problematic customers.
So if you have nightmare customers, what can you do?
Here are some ideas.
1. Accept that you may be part of the problem. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment and work out why they are dissatisfied. What are they not getting that they expect. If you can work out the reason for their behaviour, it may be easy to correct or manage.
It could be something as simple as your slow email response times driving them up the wall.
2. Manage customer expectations right from the start. The first interactions with a customer set the rules for the rest of the relationship. If you oversell or set a standard you will never reach again, then it will always lead to problems in the future.
3. Correct any wrong assumptions made by customers about what you are providing. In getting a sale it is easy to let their incorrect assumptions about what they are getting glide by. Yet ultimately they will only feel short-changed even if you are providing a great service in other respects.
4. Beware of overly attractive one-time offers – unless clearly advertised as a product ‘trial’. Big discounts are great for getting new customers in but can set an unrealistic expectation of price vs service. If customers are paying twice as much on the second order, they may well expect twice the service.
5. React to potential problems quickly. It is very easy to put-off dealing with customer issues but they are only likely to grow over time. If you sense that a customer is dissatisfied, find out why by asking them. If left unaddressed, customers are likely to start looking for new problems and issues to support their negative judgement of you or, even worse, build a case against you.
6. Know when to drop them. Sometimes you may be responsible for bad customers, but not always. Some people are just unpleasant and difficult or have issues from home which they are taking out on you. If the continuing complaining is unreasonable or if they are aggressive or abusive, don’t come up against them but plan your exit carefully. You want to make sure you are fully paid and have supplied everything you are legally obliged to provide before you pull the plug on the relationship.
Article by Justin Firth