By Jim Masson
Editor’s Note: With so much talk about how important customer service, is (and it is) and how businesses should bend over backwards to please even the most difficult customers, it’s refeshing to see someone writing about firing customers who simply are not assets to the business, and who cost more to deal with than they add. Always remember that customer service is a BUSINESS TOOL, and needs to be subservient to business goals. It’s not a religion.
I absolutely believe and teach that a totally satisfied customer is one of a salesperson’s most valuable assets. Everything possible and reasonable must be done to create that satisfaction with each and every prospect you serve. I was taught from the very beginning of my selling career that “the customer is always right”. It was the buzz phrase of progressive business created by the advertising industry. I believed it, but the truth is, the statement is pure nonsense. Let me explain.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not changing my approach to providing the best possible experience for prospects and buyers. What I am saying is that if you take the statement at face value, without limitations, you will set yourself up to be a doormat in the selling business and you will face emotional issues that you certainly can do without.
It could be that society has changed to the point where a group of buyers have seriously undercut the value of the statement. It’s been a catch phrase so long that many people are actually abusing the spirit of it.
In my observations over the last ten years, I have seen more and more customers who can not be satisfied regardless of what has been done for them or offered to them. They simply want more … more … more.
Maybe it is the ‘entitlement generation’. Maybe it is the ‘litigious nature’ of our society. Perhaps it is the ‘win whatever it takes mentality’ or maybe it is just plain old fashion ‘greed’. Whatever the cause, salespeople and sales managers are faced with more of this behavior now than at any time in our recent past. For many buyers today, the idea of “fair” is out the window. The word isn’t in their vocabulary.
Often without valid cause or on a very minor issue, these people will make a scene in your place of business. They will scream in your face. They will make various threats. They will contact the news media and distort the facts. They will generally disrupt your world. If you give in to them, in a day or two they will be back to try to get more … more … more.
I am not suggesting that this behavior is the norm, not by a longshot. What I am saying is that it does exist within the marketplace and there comes a point where it is actually in your best interest and that of your organization to imitate ‘The Donald’ and actually ‘fire a customer’.
I would like to share my reasons and parameters for actually ‘firing a particular customer’.
First, here are the reasons.
1- They will cost you business by being disruptive in public areas of your establishment.
2- They will give you emotional ‘brain damage’ with their threats.
3- Regardless of what you do for them or what you give them, they will never buy from you or your organization again because they can never be seen as satisfied. Let’s face it. The main reason business and salespeople work so hard to create satisfied customers is to obtain repeat and referral business. If the customer will not repeat or refer, regardless of your good actions, there is no incentive to continue to try to retain the customer.
4- Some customers actually need to be ‘fired’. The process may actually help them to become better human beings in the long run.
Here are the parameters.
1-) Never write off a customer with a legitimate customer satisfaction issue. If your product or service has failed to deliver to the expectations you and your company have created in the customer’s mind, it is your responsibility to make things right, even if the customer might be over reacting in the beginning. Most of these customers can be turned into loyal fans if treated properly.
2-) Never write off a customer on your own unless you are an independent business person. The customer is a potential company asset as well as a salesperson asset. Let your manager get involved in the decision. Sometimes a simple change of personalities will change the customer’s attitude. If not, your manager will understand the reason to cut the customer loose.
3-) Never lose your cool when telling the customer that you will not longer do business with him or her. Simply state the facts clearly and calmly and leave no doubt as to your course of action. Something along this line will usually be effective. “I’m truly sorry we have let you down. The company and I have done everything we are capable of doing to make you satisfied. That does not seem possible. Therefore, it is pointless for us to pursue this any further. I wish you the best.” Offer to shake hands and disengage promptly as there is nothing else to discuss.
4-) If the customer reacts to your statement with any type of threat, provided that it is not violent in nature simply suggest that he or she do what they feel is necessary. Most often it’s just hot air. In the rarest of cases, if violence is threatened, immediately inform the police.
Customers are the lifeblood of every selling success. Do not write off any of them without the very best cause. But don’t be a doormat either. Your career and your personal sanity will be better for it in the long run.
Jim Masson is the author of the sales training book “Getting Paid is Good!! Timeless Essentials of Professional Selling … and more.”, easily available online plus the author of dozens of published sales training articles.
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