You should never have “a customer from hell”

“This is one of those customers from hell.”

That’s what a small business owner said to me during one of my road trips across the country to check on how things are going out on Main Street.

“Ann” was responding to my query about her business. Her full quote was closer to, “Business is good. But right now I’ve got to spend most of the day dealing with this customer from hell.”

Photo courtesy of Blue Wolf Consulting

When I was a pup commission salesman right out of high school working in big ticket retail, I quickly realized all customers aren’t created equal; there are cool ones, high maintenance ones and impossible ones, like the one Ann was fuming about. My initial reaction was I didn’t like the latter two types and would try to avoid them. But upon more mature reflection I realized that if I was going to be successful selling on commission, I would have to do business with all kinds of customers, not just the easy ones. Honing this perspective over time, I developed the twin pillars of Blasingame’s Difficult Customer Strategy.

Pillar One: Make an extra effort to understand what troubles and/or motivates difficult customers and serve them within an inch of their lives. Most difficult customers will give you points for the effort and very likely their business in the bargain. And here’s an extra effort bonus: When a difficult customer likes you, you’ll have a customer for life, and the most valuable referral source.

Pillar Two: The hellish behavior of some customers typically manifests as excessive demands. When dealing with such people, charge them for their behavior. As I told Ann, charge difficult customers enough so that regardless of their level of maintenance, you hope they come back and ask for everything again. The key is to ask enough questions about their expectations before you set your price. Or at least remember the next time.

One former consulting client of mine could be difficult. Whenever we were face-to-face and he showed me his hellish side, I would exaggerate making a mark on my note pad, which he knew was to remind me to add a difficulty factor fee on his next invoice (he had a different name for it that can’t be used here). Eventually we joked about it, but he knew his behavior impacted his bill. He was a client for years and, difficult or not, I always liked his business.

Write this on a rock … You should never have a customer from hell.

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