Sometimes the Customer Is Wrong

Is the customer really always right? Ask a few small-business owners whether the cliché is true, and it’ll get refuted by a chorus of “no’s.” Sure, everyone wants to cultivate happy, loyal customers. But the real world includes difficult people, too.

Here are four instances when customers are wrong:

  1. They cost you money. You won’t stay in business for long if you dismiss everyone who gives you a headache. Sometimes you might need to eat crow — and a bit of cash — to keep a good customer happy, especially if you’ve made a mistake. But if a problematic patron consistently costs you money, you may be better off cutting the cord. Aspirin can fix a headache but not financial loss.
  2. They’re consistently obnoxious. Any successful small-business owner knows that demanding customers come with the territory. Thick skin and an open mind go a long way to remaining sane. Although customers are allowed to criticize or complain, they do not have carte blanche to become abusive or discriminatory toward you or your employees. It can be a fine line to walk, but common sense will go a long way: There’s an enormous difference between a cranky customer and a sexist one, for example.
  3. They want you to break the law. The varying degrees of difficulty among difficult customers make for tough decisions. Dealing with them is not an exact science. However, you should never tolerate customers who ask you to do something unethical or illegal. There’s simply no upside in allowing a shady operator to put your entire business at risk. A request doesn’t have to be particularly dramatic to pose an enormous problem, either. The Microsoft Business Hub offers this example: If a client asks you for a receipt for an amount that’s more than they actually paid, there’s only one right answer: no.
  4. They’re disturbing other, better-behaved customers. Let’s add another cliché to the mix: It takes just one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch. This can be particularly true in retail storefronts. If an unruly customer is causing a scene and making everyone else uncomfortable, you may need to ask them to leave. Check out the Intuit Small Business Blog’s advice on how to eject a bad customer.

Let’s end on a happier note, shall we? Savvy small-business owners know that, despite the bad customers in their midst, they should focus on the good ones — because these are the folks who ultimately keep them in business. Here are five ways to tell those customers you love them.

About Kevin Casey

Kevin Casey is a regular contributor here, at InformationWeek and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @kevinrcasey.
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