Why You Don’t Need Every Customer
I took one of our dogs into the dog groomer early in the morning and got there just as the owner arrived to open up her salon.
As we started to talk while she opened up the shop, her cell phone rang and she exasperatingly muted the ringer. She then confided in me:
“I can’t believe this woman won’t understand … I am booked all week with appointments. One of my workers is off due to school vacation, and the other is working only 20 hours this week as well due to vacation.” (It was a regular schedule during school vacation weeks for her staff).
“This woman demands that I take her dog in because her groomer is off this week. And what’s more frustrating is that she keep calling em even though I told her I’m booked full. She even called me at 5:00 this morning and has called me twice since.” (It was now 7:30am). “What’s more is that I have a few other customers like her, who demand me to work my schedule around theirs when I can’t.” She went on to say that the reason she has her business is to do what she loves and have a work-life balance. But some of her customers were pulling her away from her original intent. She also said that for the first time in 8 years, she is needing to increase her prices, and she knows some of her customers will not like that decision.
What I told her flies in the face of conventional business wisdom, but it is sound counsel. I acknowledged her challenges and affirmed to her,
You Don’t Need Every Customer
What I explained to her is that she is the owner of her business, no one else. While we must do whatever we can to serve our customers and give the best service and product, no one should allow customers to bully or manipulate or shame a business owner or worker into carrying out every whim of the customer.
Customers come and go, and in these days of litigation, online reviews, and challenging economic forces, businesses crumble under the weight of customer “abuse” time and again. But it’s the quality company that can rise above these challenges and strengthen their customer base and loyalty if they know how. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Know Your Core Values. Why you got into business is what will keep you in business. If customers try to pry you away from those values, you need to stay your ground. A technology company next to where I live does not take on clients they cannot serve within their business model – it’s built into their core values. They refer these customers to other reputable companies in order to stay focused on their core beliefs and services.
- Be Professional. When a customer acts unbecomingly, do not respond the same way. Keeping your composure will avoid both damage to your credibility and leverage for a customer to justify a negative review or worse. Great restaurant managers know how to refuse the bar patron who’s had too many drinks without creating a scene or leaving the store on the hook for liability. Stay composed at all times.
- Simply Say You’re Not Able to Meet Their Needs. One of the best customer lines you can say is “I’m sorry but I don’t think I can meet your needs.” If a customer knows that they can’t have their needs met at a particular place, most likely they will take the initiative to go elsewhere. Being honest and up front about your ability to take on and service a client is far more desirable than to attempt to do so and fall short of their expectations (or demands). This action usually leads to the following step . . .
- Build A Network Of Competitors. Like the technology company I mentioned earlier, know who your competitors are and build a rapport with them. Sometimes you will not have the capacity to take on a particular customer, but another business can. Let the customer know where they can have their needs met in those places. You can actually foster some incredible goodwill among the customer community and your competitors by sharing services that best match various customers, and find that your competition will reciprocate as well – I’ve experienced this first hand many times throughout the years. The goal is to meet everyone’s needs the best you can, starting with your business, while at the same time still serving the customer albeit not necessarily from your company.
- Know Your Business Model May Weed Out Certain Customers. This woman’s other dilemma was how raising her prices would impact her customers. Knowing her demographics and the challenges she’s facing, I let her know that she should not hesitate to make those changes to keep her business sustainable financially. I also said that given her market area, that raising her prices may actually help prune some of these customers away. Business models – such as pricing, operating hours, and even geography – can ferret out some customer issues and allow you to focus on those closer to your target clientele and industry. Like core values, staying within your model but delivering exceptional service within it, is key to your identity as a business and a reminder that you are in the driver’s seat to serve the clientele.
By having character and clarity in knowing who you are as a business and who your customers are will allow you to more freely deliver great service and build a more loyal customer base. Make the customer chase you for business, and not the other way around.
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