Difficult Customers : Sometimes, you just can't afford to keep them

dealing with difficult customers
Every small business gets it’s share of difficult customers. They can leave you feeling stressed, confused, tense or frustrated to the point of wanting to pull your hair out.

How well do you and your staff handle them? …….  Are there ever occasions when you might decide it’s just not worth the hassle of working so hard to keep a particularly difficult customer?

Let’s look at some of the difficult types of customers that you might encounter in your small business…..

·       Different types of difficult customers

Which of the following difficult customers have you experienced in your small business …..
1.    The customer who always seems to complain about every little thing and find fault in anything you do for them

2.    The customer who is slow and reluctant in paying their bill

3.    The haggling customer who wants to pay you peanuts, but expects top quality service

4.    The demanding customer who always wants their work completed yesterday

5.    The rude customer – who lacks any form of basic courtesy

6.    The indecisive customer, who either can’t make up their mind or regularly changes their mind during the progress of the order

·        Preventing  difficulties
You will avoid many difficulties in your business with customers by simply ensuring that from the very beginning of the relationship you listen carefully and communicate clearly. This is fundamental to understanding their requirements and then meeting agreed expectations. Customers rightly get annoyed if they feel they're not being listened to or when they experience an unmet expectation or when they've been sold a solution that just doesn't fix their problem.
But some customers have quite unrealistic expectations, so you've got to manage them. 

You've heard the business principle of "Under-promise and over-deliver" - that way it's much less likely that you'll lose their trust. For example, if you’re a printing company and you think their job will take 3 hours to complete, then you might estimate to the customer that their job could take up to 4 hours ..... This way, you prevent a complaint if the job happened to take an extra 30 minutes to complete.
If you’re a hairdresser and you’re running late in your appointments, you give the customer a call as early as possible, with an apology. Yes, they’ll still feel a little annoyed – but they won’t be anywhere near as angry if you hadn’t called. Mind you, even better is that with good time management perhaps you might have been running on time with your appointments in the first place.
Another example of preventing difficulties let’s say with slow payment, is to ensure that customers understand your payment terms before committing to doing business with you. Whether this is clearly conveyed in signage within your store, or spelled out on any purchase order which they sign.

·        Some customers are just plain unreasonable

Early in the “start-up” stage of the business, we have a tendency to be grateful for any type of customer at all, and we will often be quite over-accommodating.
For example, with the demanding customer our eagerness to please means we end up being too willing to work as many hours as necessary to complete the job for the customer – staying back late in the evenings so as to keep them happy. But this can be at the expense of any type of healthy work-life balance. It also tends to create a precedent, in terms of tight timelines that the customer expects you to again meet in future. In a sense, this is simply "feeding the beast".

Another example of this over-accommodation in the start-up stage can be a reluctance to enforce terms of payment. We don’t want to risk any tension in the relationship, quite often feeling that we need them more than they need us. We do anything to avoid upsetting the customer – even though they haven’t met their part of the deal in not paying us on time.

However, once we start to feel more confident that our business has established itself, then we eventually learn to become more assertive in the way we deal with these customers. In no way does this mean that we become less respectful or less courteous. What it does mean is that we speak up more readily to explain our requirements of them, and remind them when necessary about our terms and conditions.

We realise that we have to become much more willing to walk away from continuing to do business with an unreasonable customer who is simply too toxic and takes far too much work to please and appease.
In the following short video clip, the owner of a small website design business shares some useful tips he's learned about the dangers of being "too nice" when dealing with clients that just seem to be wanting more and more beyond what was initially agreed

·        But what about “The customer is always right”
Your mantra when you established your business was probably “The customer is always right” …. And of course, you never want to lose sight of the reality that the profitability and sustainability of your small business depends upon satisfied, if not delighted, customers. And of course, just because a customer is complaining, this doesn’t make them unreasonable. There could well be a very good reason for their complaint – and we may learn something from it, in terms of improving our processes or our staff training!

However, this cannot mean that we must seek to satisfy all customers at any cost. In any relationship, you’ve got to be able to set reasonable boundaries – because if you can’t, chances are at some point you’ll be taken advantage of.  For example, unfortunately there are customers out there who will avoid paying their bill, if you let them.

·        Keeping perspective
Now let’s try to put all of this in some perspective here. The vast majority of your customers are very likely reasonable people. And you’ve tried to develop your processes and procedures so that they as customer-focused as possible. This means 90% of the time, through clear and regular communication between you and your customer, everything works out.  Your customer feels comfortable with the “value exchange” – they perceive that they have received the product or service that they required, at a fair price and in a timely manner.

·        Some difficulties can be resolved
And then there’s another 5% of the time when problems can arise. With these, through careful patient listening and co-operative problem solving with your staff and customer, a solution can be found that works for everyone. You spend some time with your staff, de-briefing later to check whether a recurrence of this type of situation can be prevented in the future.
  • Some customers themselves are the problem
But there can be this other 5% of the time, when you find yourself dealing with unreasonably difficult customers. This is when you need to step back and ask yourself what is that particular customer bringing to the business – either in terms of prestige, referrals or sales volume. And weigh this up carefully against what it is costing you to keep them. Sometimes you will find, having completed the math that it’s just not worth it.

And that’s when it’s time to explain to them with great tact and diplomacy that you’re not going to be able to help them – and instead point them towards one of your competitors.

More tips and small business resources can be found at Small Business Management

About the author
Brian Carroll is the founder of a corporate management training and leadership development company, Performance Development, based in Melbourne, Australia.  He is a qualified psychologist, experienced coach and an engaging presenter, with a passion for helping people achieve their full potential.

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