Remember when we were being taught “the customer is always right”? A few years ago, the teaching faded away, as most of us realized that while well-intentioned and a great war cry for better customer service, it was in fact wrong. The customer is not always right – sometimes because we fail to communicate clearly, and sometimes because, well, they just are.
In our office, the highest priority is clear communication with each customer regarding expectations – time frame for work to be completed, possible outcomes, warranty coverage, price, and so on. If we promise a delivery time and we realize that, due to a supply problem, technician illness, etc., that we cannot meet it, we communicate it immediately – we don’t wait for the delivery time to come and go. If we cannot guarantee that a certain service or repair will correct and issue, we explain in detail why it may not and why we still think the service should be done. It is our job to provide information so that the customer can make an informed decision about what they want to do. Very rarely, we slip up. We drop the ball. When we do, we admit to it, and do what we can to make it right.
There are those few customers, however, that we CANNOT communicate with. We are particularly diligent with communication, taking additional time to explain in detail our recommendations, pricing, time frame, etc. We annotate the time and date and amount that was approved. We complete the approved work on time. But when they arrive to complete the transaction, it seems as if none of that has occurred. The work is questioned. The price is disputed. They begrudgingly pay for the work and leave – only to appear 3 days later asking why we didn’t fix X issue . We then spend additional time reminding them that they declined to fix that X so they could fix Y and Z instead.
In our office we give these customers 1 “pass.” We assume responsibility for the first time this kind of problem occurs. Perhaps we did fail to confirm they understood everything. But we also annotate that we had this issue with them. And when they return, if it occurs again, we fire them.
WHAT?! You FIRE a customer?! Yes, we do.
You see, we realize at that point that there is nothing we will ever be able to do to please them. They will always be dissatisfied with our work and our service. And every time we interact with them, we give them another negative story to share with their friends, neighbors, and coworkers about us. So yes, we fire them.
“We realize that we are not able to provide service to the level you need. We will not be able to meet your expectations in the future. If you would like, we can gladly recommend other reputable businesses in the area that may be a better fit for you.”
Sometimes they get angry. Sometimes they start apologizing. All the time, we fire them anyway.
Because our #1 selling tool, the thing that gets new customers in our door on a DAILY basis is not a slick marketing campaign, or a great ad in the local paper, or a glow-in-the-dark postcard. It’s office chats. It’s referrals. It’s online reviews. Whether face to face or via the internet, our greatest marketing is done by happy, satisfied customers. And the greatest killer of business is bad word-of-mouth.
We release those customers who we cannot make happy into the wild to be free to find someone else!
We focus on keeping the ones that love us happy – and making sure we aren’t creating through our own failures more of the other kind.
What about you? Do you have an interesting “I fired that customer” story? We’d love to hear it!