Dealing with your worst customers

Most customers are a real pleasure to deal with, but once in a while, you inevitably encounter one of those customers that defy the social etiquette and behave outrageously for one reason or another. How you deal with such customers tells the story about who you really are as a business and at the same time, it can leave a mark on your reputation. So how do you deal with such customers?

Well, one common advise that you read in popular business book is to “fire your worst customers”. This advice is not necessarily a purely pragmatic advice, motivated by cost and profitability – and indeed, bad customers can be a drain on your resources in terms of support, time spent answering their emails, phone calls, addressing complaints and so on. It’s a recommendation that goes against another very popular advice found in many business books that says: “The customer is always right!”.

So which school of thought do you follow? Do you think the customer is always right or do you fire the worst customers?

At Clevertim, we believe the truth and the right thing to do is somewhere in the middle. We believe in general customers are in their right to ask for things to work properly without hitches and we do apologize and fix things quickly when it’s our fault. Inevitably some people are frustrated when things don’t work as they expect to and tempers differ. This doesn’t bother us.
However, we draw the line at abuse and intimidation of our staff. We believe our staff and any staff, any human being in fact, has the right to perform their duties and live their lives free of abuse and intimidation from anyone, irrespective of what the situation is.

If that happens, we don’t fire customers though. Everyone has ups and downs and we know and accept that. When that happens, we try to cut through the emotion and negativity to see what the real problem is and address that. Is there a problem with the payment? Is there a fault with the website? What’s the root cause of the problem – get to that one thing we can do something about. Then just fix it and move on.

The other thing we do is to be honest with our customers. We’re a small business ourselves and we operate with limited resources. One of our goals is to keep the cost down for our customers, so that means that we can’t do everything. For example, we cannot offer phone support – we only offer email support, which we like to think it’s very responsive and helpful as we don’t have many layers between support people and developers or managers who can actually fix the issues. We also cannot implement all the features under the sun. We listen, but sometimes politely explain we cannot do it.

Some customers fire themselves at that point, when they realize we cannot do for them what they want: e.g. phone support or feature X, Y or Z. It’s just a fact of life. We cannot be all things for everyone. But for most of our customers we solve a real business problem of managing the data about their own customers. We like to keep those customers happy by any means we can.

Now, that being said, back to you… how do you deal with your worst customers?