“The customer is always right” philosophy has been around for decades and is widely followed by businesses of all sizes. But this approach may no longer be a one-size-fits-all solution.
With digital media giving consumers an amplified voice and the general awareness of the customer-first way of business, consumers can sometimes take things too far. Knowing when to give in and save the relationship, and when to stand your ground, however, is no easy feat.
Most customers are easy to deal with, but many small businesses have at least one horror story to tell of a customer who lost control or had an irrational reaction to what was a relatively minor issue. It’s these type of sticky situations that require careful analysis before you respond.
Keeping The Peace
“The customer is not always right, but they are always the customer,” says Don Gallegos, retired president of King Scoopers in Denver and author of Win The Customer, Not The Argument. “Remember, wrong customers spend money, too.” The question you have to ask yourself, then, isn’t whether the customer is right but whether the relationship is worth saving.
There are at least four circumstances that make an unreasonable or aggressive customer worth the effort:
- The cost of appeasing the customer is small. If it’s only going to cost your business a few bucks, it’s not worth the risk of damaging your reputation. Rectify the situation and move on.
- The customer is your ideal target. If the customer perfectly matches your profile of an ideal target consumer, this is a relationship you want to save. Why? You’ll inevitably have the experience again with another customer with a similar personality.
- It’s an ongoing and profitable relationship. When applied to business, the Pareto principle suggests that 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your customers. If the customer in question falls into the 20 percent, salvage the relationship.
- The customer is high-profile. There’s always the possibility that an unhappy customer just happens to be someone with a recognizable name in your community or even around the world. If that’s the case, the brand reputation damage potential is exponentially greater than it would be with your average consumer.
For some businesses, every customer falls into one of the above scenarios. “I've learned that it's best to never argue with your clients, because your reputation is not worth messing with,” says Pierre Zarokian, president of search engine marketing firm Submit Express Inc. “Any upset client can go on Yelp or a complaint site like RipOffReport and leave negative reviews about you that could cost you thousands of dollars in lost business, even if there's no truth to what they say.”
Stand Your Ground
With social networks, review websites and complaint platforms everywhere, each of your customers has the power to damage your brand reputation. But what if the situation is too outrageous and the customer’s demands too extreme or unreasonable? If you find yourself facing such a scenario and don’t feel the relationship is worth salvaging, there’s a right way—and a wrong way—to stand your ground.
First, you don’t want to fuel the customer’s fire. They’ll be angry enough that they're not getting their way, and handling it unprofessionally will only damage your reputation. Here are three tips that will help you handle it properly:
1. Maintain a calm and professional demeanor. Losing your temper is the surest way to lose any support you have from your loyal fans.
2. Explain why your company’s philosophy, policies or values prevent you from meeting the request. This puts the blame on the rules, rather than on your decision-making shoulders, so it feels less like a personal attack.
3. If this is a customer you no longer wish to do business with, let them know. There are lots of ways to get that point across without simply saying, “We refuse to work with you.” Instead, recommend another company and explain that you feel the other business’ skills and expertise are a better match for the customer’s needs.
Following these strategies won’t just help you defuse the situation, but it will paint your business in a better light if the customer takes to social media with their complaint. Keeping these "keeping the peace" strategies in mind as you interact with an angry customer will help prevent you from doing or saying anything that could be perceived negatively by the masses.
Angela Stringfellow is a freelance writer, social media strategist and complete content marketing junkie obsessed with all things Web, the written word and marketing.
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