Do you operate on the belief that they your customer is always right? Reality tells us they are NOT always right!
I suggest there are three primary reasons why a customer is not happy with your service.
- Reason #1 You failed to establish the correct expectations with them – in writing.
- Reason #2 You really screwed up on the job and they have a right to be upset.
- Reason #3 They are dishonest or want to profit at your expense.
In reason # 1, failing to establish the exact criteria or expectations is your fault. Even when they have unrealistic ideas, you must either lock the expectations down in writing or walk away.
It’s no secret that there are impossible customers, and every one of us has experienced clients that you just couldn’t satisfy no matter how many hoops you jumped through. The bar is pretty high for customer service these days and people do expect more than ever before.
All too often, customers don’t know what they want, or worse yet, have unrealistic expectations. That complicates the challenge of being sure you have established exactly what you plan to do for them.
We’ve all experienced clients that thought they were smarter than us about how to do the job. Just like the classic example of the insurance adjuster that holds his hand against the drywall and pronounces it “dry” even though we all know it’s not dry. Even when we show him using meters, he still thinks we’re trying to pull something. It’s important to remember we are the experts. We do (or should) know our trade better than the customer.
The best choice, in my opinion, is to trust your people over unreasonable customers. This attitude balances employees and customers. The “always right” maxim squarely favors the customer which is a bad idea, because, it causes resentment among employees.
Of course, there are plenty of examples of bad employees giving lousy customer service but trying to solve this by declaring the customer “always right” is counter-productive.
In reason # 2, yes, it’s also your fault. Things didn’t go as planned and mistakes happened. Many times, those errors were beyond your control, but, at a minimum, you should have anticipated potential hiccups. At the least, prepare your customer for those potential issues, so they are well aware things can be unexpected, unplanned, but possible to overcome.
Mistakes happen. Unplanned emergencies or situations happen. You can, however, be “prepared” for the unplanned and unexpected possibilities. One of the easiest ways to help overcome a mistake or failure is to go so far above and beyond what they were expecting that you essentially “bank” so positives to help offset a negative situation. Most of us can admit when it is clearly a screw-up on our part. The way you correct the screw-up will make all the difference in the world. The balance will be between “making it right” and not letting the customer keep bleeding you for everything you’ve got because you admitted the mistake.
Prevent that abuse is usually entirely up to you. Clarifying what went wrong, and clearly identifying what you are going to do to make it right is critical. Establish the parameters of exactly what will happen to correct the error. Spell it out – in writing. (You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating… “if it’s not in writing, it doesn’t (or didn’t) exist.”
In reason # 3, customer dishonesty (greed, bad ethics) or just want to profit at your expense. The philosophy that “The customer is always right,” means abusive customers can demand just about anything. Also, it means that abusive people get better treatment and conditions than nice people. We all know it’s not right for combative customers to get an unfair advantage. Without exception, your business is better off without some customers.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to only have to “fire” a couple of customers. We should all know at this point in our businesses that some customers can’t be satisfied. For the past 25 years, I’ve operated on the belief that as long as I’m looking at things through the “eyes of my client,” I am free to dismiss a client that is operating from an unethical or abusive position just to gain more, unfairly from the company.
It’s important to note when the company and management consistently side with customers instead of with employees, it sends a clear message that:
- Employees are not valued
- Treating employees fairly is not important
- Employees have no right to respect from customers
- Employees must put up with everything from customers
- When this attitude prevails, employees stop caring about service.
To believe that a customer is right regardless of circumstance is perhaps the greatest betrayal management can perpetrate against their staff. The message is clear: put your employees first, and they’ll put your customers first. Richard Branson says, “The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers.”