Everyone has difficult customers. Everyone has bad days where the next customer that asks for “that book, the new one, I think’s it’s red” is going to make you scream. Everyone has transactions that are just one problem after another.
This is not about those customers. Nor is it about the looky-loos that never buy anything. They aren’t customers at all.
This is about people who you’re better off not taking their money at all. In down times it’s often tempting to hang onto anyone that gives you money… but these customers are such trouble that they end up COSTING you more than you make from them. You’re afraid to say anything about their bad behavior because of the fear of losing them. They chew up time that you could be spending on other more productive parts of your business, they scare other customers, or they make your staff quit so you have to train new ones. So if you call them on the bad behavior and they leave, it’s actually a win for you!
How can you tell if a customer should be fired, rather than that are just difficult?
Keep in mind, this is a PATTERN, not a single day. You can have bad days with good customers. You can have difficult customers that are worth the time and effort to satisfy them. There are GOOD DAYS with that customer. It’s not overwhelmingly bad. The key with bad customers is that they are such a drain on you that they take more than they give back in business.
Sometimes simply telling people you aren’t putting up with this behavior may mean they change it and will stick around anyway… but be easier to deal with. They may just need a firm “no” to get them to stop the behavior that’s making them such a drain. Sometimes it means they take their business elsewhere. But for truly odious individuals, they may have already exhausted other businesses that will put up with this behavior. You may be the last remaining sucker that puts up with them.
Do you recognize these people?
The customer is NEVER satisfied. There is always something wrong with what you or your employees do. You spend huge amount of time trying to make this person happy, but there’s never an END. Or if it does end and they finally settle for something, it’s brought up again and again how last time it didn’t work. It is never forgotten, it never really ends. They may also add on your lousy service/product as a long list of complaints about how awful their life is.
This is someone that will NEVER be happy. They are only happy with something to complain about. This is what they want, someone to listen to their complaints. They don’t really want a book, they want someone to complain to! You’re cheaper than a therapist. You can drive yourself nuts trying to make this person happy and end up neglecting other customers. Indulging this behavior is fine when you have the time… but the constant complainer is tying you or your employees up when you could be doing other work.
Do not confuse this with the person with a legitimate complaint or the picky customer. Eventually those customers will settle on something that is satisfactory. There is an end. They may not always be happy with the end, but there’s some finite end where they consider the matter finished.
It’s not unreasonable for particularly loyal customers to expect the occasional discount or special deal. This is a reward for loyalty. The price gouger is the one that expects a deal EVERY time, no matter how infrequently they buy or how little they buy. This is the person that will also be incensed if you are not charging what they consider a “fair” price… no matter how delusional that price is. And will try and wheedle you down to that price. And you only see them when you have a sale. Or you see them the day after a sale and they demand yesterday’s price. Or demand you match a competitors price. Or a tagsale’s price. Or you charge the original cover price from a 1st edition book from the 1950s.
Do not confuse this with the frugal shopper that may have a limited budget or just likes to wheel and deal. The frugal shopper may decide to pass over that book until they have more money or shop around and come back. The friendly haggler likes a deal, but will respond to counter offers and explanations of WHY your copy is more expensive and adjust their price upward. The gouger will browbeat you until they get that last penny… and probably still won’t be satisfied. They will complain about the price even as they hand you the cash.
The blackmailer can resort to several types of coerscion, either economic or emotional. The emotional blackmailer will try and get things from you based on you being pals (when you’re not) or with the sob story. It is always something. The emotional blackmailer can often sound like the complainer, but they’ll complain about everyone BUT you and instead butter you up with how wonderful you are and how its so sweet of you to do X.
The economic blackmailer will constantly remind you how much you need their business and use it to justify demanding special treatment or a discount out of proportion with their actual value as a customer.
Do not confuse this with a customer that is indeed a valuable customer and wants to negotiate a better rate because they are a good customer. The blackmailer wants a rate better than what you’ve given your best customer and treatment beyond what you render your best customers… no matter how little they spend or how often. This is the person who constantly threatens to take their business elsewhere.
The blackmailer may also try and play your staff off each other. “Oh, Steve always gives me a discount.” or “Bob said it was this much”. Or tell you “such and such other business has it for twenty five cents less”. It all sounds so reasonable… even when it’s just total BS.
Don’t confuse the blackmailer with the merely confused or the one with bad memory. Bob may indeed have told them something… but that doesn’t mean they remembered it correctly. They remembered it they way they WANTED it to be, not necessarily what they were actually told. The confused individual will usually just agree that they must have wrong info, or make it obvious that they’re confused rather than working an angle.
The key with the blackmailer is that it SOUNDS reasonable and its easy. But as they wear away at you, the deals get better and better and it just builds. Each little step seemed so reasonable, but taken as a whole, they’re getting ridiculous treatment.
You and your staff are there to be their punching bag. You want their money, so they get to do whatever they want to you. This may just be self important blustering and demanding special treatment… or can be the sort that harasses your staff or demands that they want to be serviced by someone other than who they’re getting service from.
Do not confuse this with someone that is just getting bad service or is having a bad day. Maybe nothing has gone their way today, and dammnit, they want something to work today! The bully is the one that thinks its okay to flirt with your staff or to demand that they want to have someone of a different race wait on them. This is someone who’s behavior would absolutely not be tolerated if there was no money involved. If your other customers are staring at them in abject horror, you may have a bully.
Remember, the bully does not necessarily yell. The quiet bully can often be more vicious. Wwhat you wouldn’t tolerate if it was yelled, you may let slide if said in a quiet voice.
Also don’t confuse the bully with the person that’s socially awkward or the person that if from a different culture or doesn’t speak English as their first language. They may have just used an idiomatic expression wrong or what is perfectly acceptable slang where they’re from is quite RUDE here. If they look confused about why you’re mad, it’s probably accidental.
Is there a person that when they enter the store, your other regulars check out and leave… or even abandon their shopping and leave? Or simply hide from this person? Do your employees draw straws on who has to deal with them? Do you wish you’re weren’t stuck alone with this person?
Something is just… WRONG with this customer. They may be abusive to staff. They may hit on the staff. They may scare other customers. They may be abusive to other customers. They may do…things… in the corner of the shop. If the normally friendly shop animal cowers in terror from this person, this is a BAD SIGN. This is harder to pinpoint what is wrong, but something is VERY wrong. Unlike the bully, they don’t attract attention to themselves. Whatever it is that sets other people off only happens when there aren’t witnesses.
Do not confuse them with a customer that looks intimidating, is socially awkward, or just offends certain customers. You can have a customer that perhaps curses occasionally and makes people with kids shy away from them. Or scares certain customers due to their appearance. The occasional odd reaction is nothing to worry about. But if nobody wants to be near them, they’re driving off your other business. Though if they truly are terrifying, asking them to leave may be really, really hard…
Hopefully these people weren’t customers you recognize or can put a name too. If you read this and said “oh, that’s Mr. X” or “that sounds like Mrs. W” perhaps its time to consider telling them that this really must stop. At worst they take their business elsewhere. At best, they realize they’re being horrid and your working relationship improves. But if you do nothing, they’ll continue to cost you time and money and possibly even lose you other customers.
5 thoughts on “Dear "customer"- you're fired!”
that was awesome 8)
Fantastic article, Nora. It makes me all the more relieved that I’m an online-only seller and don’t have to deal with undesirable customers face-to-face.
Although last week I did tell one very unpleasant gentleman to shop elsewhere in future. He was a bully who tried to make it my problem that he had left his Christmas shopping until the last minute.
Nora, you wrote brilliantly at a very interesting topic. Maybe it’s time to say good bye to the old concept of ‘the customer is always right’.
It should not be one sided relationship anymore.
We have a lovely (snerk) customer who combines three of the types you describe. Just our luck to have an over-achiever. Thanks for the good article!
We actually have that kind of costumer who keeps on coming back in our store and I just have no strength of will to FIRE him as you have said so. But as I read your post it made me realize that I really have to FIRE him. This post just not saves me but my money as well. Thanks!
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