Headache Customers!!!

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Let’s admit it, there are customers who cannot be defined as anything else other than being a headache. And we have had them – they will call us at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday morning asking the progress of their order! You go to bed and the first dream you have is of that customer ruining your Monday morning!

In the years that I was employed and continuing now as a consultant and the management of a family business, two things that have adamantly stood out are that:

  1. a customer is a customer, no matter their nature, outward appearance, complexion, appearance, attitude etc. BUT
  2. some customers are just not worth the hassle – honestly! As an entrepreneur, your biggest and major point of concern is maximizing the returns on your investment and when you come across a customer who aims at sinking the return to levels that are sometimes lower than the investment itself, while simultaneously maximizing the risk to very uncomfortable levels, RUN – drop the deal like a hot potato and run as if your life depends on it. Because it does! That deal will haunt you for a long time to come.

Let’s take a hypothetical but everyday scenario.

Very many households employ the services of a nanny/ domestic worker/ house help, male or female and their services will range from house work, to child care, garden maintenance, family driver and so much more including security.

As far as this setting goes, the house help is the service provider and the members of the household are the customers. The head of the house is always identifying more of the wrongs than the right things done. There is a crease on the table cloth, you left the bathroom light on, you left the broom lying on the ground in the backyard, the top shelf is dirty, you always wake up five minutes after the alarm goes off instead of waking up before it rings, I am paying you 10,000/= and you are eating and sleeping in my house so your services must be the best and nothing less. Frankly speaking, in such a scenario, you would have to be a supernatural human being to stay for more than two months with a customer who gives you this dose daily. Professionally, we know them. “I said I wanted you to fold the letter twice, not once”; “I thought you are a customer-minded organization, why is the water dispenser empty?”

When I thought about this I was reminded of a story in the book by Napoleon Hill, Think & Grow Rich. This young girl of African origin went to face a mean looking white man on behalf of her mother while asking for fifty cents that the man owed the lady. The guy looked at her and said he did not have anything, so the girl should leave. The little girl said okay, but continued to stand there. Thinking that the small girl had already gone, the guy was surprised and angry to find that she had not left. He even threatened to slap her. So just as he was approaching her with everything about his posture screaming assault on the girl, she stepped forward toward him and screamed with every fibre of her being about her mother wanting the fifty cents. For a few seconds, I would think in shock and all that, the guy reached into his pocket, got out half a dollar and gave it to the young girl. This story made me realize that even the worst of customers can be turned into the best and instead of running, you end up having them eat out of your hand? How, you ask?

Be polite, Firm and Subtle

A hard combination to have, but possible to acquire, maintain and reap greatly from it. There are customers who do not really care whether you have to break policy and work guidelines for them to have their way. It is not their biggest concern whether you lose your job in the process of giving them the service.

The only time it might hit them that they were asking for too much is if they come around again and you cannot serve them because you were fired in the process of pleasing and meeting their demands. So rather than burn your fingers for people who think the world revolves around them because they are engaging you to serve them, be polite in responding to them. When they scream at you, smile at them and keep quiet. Do not answer their tirade of words, you will only be fuelling it further and it protects you because you do not say things you don’t mean in the heat of the moment. Instead of saying, “I am sorry I cannot do this,” Just simply say, “I’m sorry sir, but there is no way of going against the laid down procedure without compromising your relations with the company.”

Get it right the first time so they never have to come back for a repeat job

Nothing is as annoying as a repeat job for a difficult customer. You have not only given them a reason to be more difficult. You have also justified their total treatment of you. How often have you heard this phrase, “You cannot do anything right unless you are supervised!” Get it right the first time, sort out that customer and let them get away from you satisfied and pray that they never have to come back to you again for anything.

Read your customer like the back of your hand

Every person has their point of weakness. It maybe that a grumpy customer just needs his order taken by a beautiful waitress rather than a male waiter. Others just consider a woman in the corporate world as a lost soul. In such a case, instead of having the female folk deal with him much to their own misery, let the customer deal with the gender he is comfortable with. In religious terms, there are people who are just the personality of the devil incarnate himself sent to torment you. The best thing, especially through the spirit of discernment. Let them be handled by somebody else. Forget the commission involved, if any, just give them a wide berth.

Identify only one person to deal with a difficult customer

There are customers who have bestowed upon themselves the dignitary status. Unless they deal with the boss, they will be as difficult as possible. It is important for such customers, if your organization has the man power, to have a number two who can handle them as personally as the boss does. Otherwise, no staff member will be willing to deal with them because they know, it just means trouble!

Draw the line – Let the customer know your limits and how far you can be stretched

Every organization has some basic rules of working. The customers should know from the word go, the principles you are working on. If it has to do with timing, let the customer know that if you say the appointment is set for 2:00 p.m. and he comes through at 2:30 p.m., he must rebook because others have to be served.

Be in charge from Day 1

Customers can smell a weakling who is easy to manipulate and harass from the word go. Style up yourself and your staff to ensure that they remain in charge of every situation, to avoid manipulation by some customers. This is your business and the customers are at the centre of it all. But remember if you let them know that you are so flexible for them to bend and shape you in any direction they please, they will be the direct cause of either your downfall or miserable staff.

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