You’re Fired…

By: Cris Merz

When and How to Fire a Customer

I cannot stand the phrase, “The customer is always right.”  I think it is a horrible way to excuse your customers from being a pain in your butt.  How many times have you seen or overheard a rude customer abusing a waiter or waitress, a flight attendant, or a car rental counter employee and then they throw out that phrase – “Well, you know what they say, right?”.  As I roll my eyes thinking, “Oh Boy.  Here it comes…” and sure enough, “The customer is always right – I want a refund.”

I believe in providing supreme customer service.  I believe in building a relationship with loyal customers that involves trust and respect.  However, I also believe that there may be a time when it is better in the long run to cut your losses and let a customer go.

Let’s first look at the, “Why?”

Reality vs. Expectations.

You do your best to keep customers satisfied, go beyond the call of duty and give 110% but it isn’t enough.  The customer has expectations that simply aren’t realistic.  They expect you to perform miracles.

“This needs to be done now.”

“I want 100% refund because you failed to do [XYZ].”

“I am expecting you to beat this price.”

“I do not understand why you cannot make this happen.”

If you have a customer and your relationship with that customer is usually hearing these words – you may have a good reason to send them to another store.

If your customer expects you to magically be able to break the triangle of, “Fast, Cheap or Good.”  You know they expect an unrealistic result from what you can deliver.  Ask yourself – does this customer share my business practices?  You offer quality, but it takes a bit more time.  Or you may offer great prices, but the quality is not the best available out there.  If it is all about cost vs. value for your customer and they constantly try to negotiate and renegotiate your prices looking for bundles that aren’t there or deals that aren’t offered. They may not or may not fit into the business model your dive center is trying to portrait and your margins may be suffering because of it.

Now, perhaps what you don’t want to hear is that these situations may often be avoidable and I suggest that you look at the buyer-seller process you have in place at your business.  Were you not clear about what you would deliver?  Did you make a promise thinking they would forget and now realize you cannot fulfill it?  Did you put your ability to keep a promise on the hopes that a manufacturer you work with could deliver putting your reputation on the line?  Do you have a hard time saying, “No, I don’t think we can do this for you in the time frame you’d like”?

It is not a bad idea to eliminate the relationship early on if you believe that the expectations that this customer has of you, your staff, and facility will cost you more in the end because you now have to put in more resources in order to keep them happy – and without raising the cost, you may be on the losing side of this deal.

Nasty people exist.

Some people are just rude.  It is not your fault.  There are people that may not necessarily have silly expectations of you but they still manage a way to treat you and your staff poorly.  Respect goes both ways and though we need to earn it every day with the job, education and services we provide, it is just as easy to lose it in a minute.

A rude customer turned student can also be very disruptive in class making it an uncomfortable experience for your other students as well as the instructor, who could have his “game” thrown off because of the rudeness.

As I have worked on liveaboards for a number of years, I was often able to witness that diver that just alienated themselves from the rest of the group with each passing day because they were very difficult to get along with and unpleasant to be around brining on too much unnecessary drama.  It usually followed with the group leader telling me at the end of the week, “I will never sell a trip to that person again.”

We do not need these people in our lives and your staff should not be subjected to this type of abuse either.  You will certainly gain the respect of the people that work for you if you get rid of a customer that was nasty to one of the people on your team – it also shows them you got their back.

The ultimatums and the threats.

I see this lot at my level but I also remember seeing it in daily retail.  We don’t need threats to do our job.  The moment I hear, “I’m taking my business elsewhere unless you…” well, that is usually when I follow up with, “Maybe we aren’t the right fit for your business.”  It happens seldom, but it happens.  You should not be threatened to do something that may lower your returns and your margins – not to mention, that negotiation technique is not a fair one.

If you experience this at first with a new or existing customer, take a close look at the situation.  You may have indeed screwed up and need to fix it but if you hear this over and over again from the same customer looking to intimidate you with threats to get better deals, you may want to take it for what it is. The person believes he or she is being a clever master negotiator but in fact they are nothing more than a school yard bully trying to take your lunch money.

If you hear your customers talk about your completion and how much better they are at “this and that” go ahead and agree.  Tell your customer how great your competitors are.  They will immediately lose that ace of diamonds they believe to be holding under their sleeve.  Keep in mind when this occurs, they may in fact be playing the back-and-forth game trying to see who caves in first.  Don‘t cave, praise your competitor and perhaps your customer will find that their style of selling suits them better based on the type of consumer they are.  While sending your completion business may not be your idea of growth in the area – you may be better off.

So here is the tough part – how do you fire a customer? 

The first thing you have to realize is that if this is the type of customer that requires firing, it may also be the type of customer that likes to vent (justifiable or not) on social media, Trip Advisor, Yelp, what have you.  Be prepared to answer the concerns that arise because of this.

The best way to avoid a nasty “break-up” is to make the firing as smooth as possible. If you can make them believe it was their idea altogether to go look for a new dive center, even better.

Here are a few tips on how you can let your customer go.

What happened?

Clarify the disagreement explaining why you are unable to satisfy their needs.  It may be because you are unable to produce the results they expect, you do not believe your staff deserves to be yelled at or you think that the business practices of the other store down the road may be a better fit for them.

You can make it about business as in, “Our resources simply do not allow us to be able to fill your 20 tanks overnight when you bring them in on a Friday afternoon at 7pm expecting to have them by 5am tomorrow.” Or make it personal.  “We are no longer able to assist you for personal differences and believe it is in the best interest that we simply go our separate ways.”

Essentially, this is the, “It’s not you, it’s me” approach and apologize.  After all – how do they counter that argument?

Stay professional.

You do not need many reasons to fire a customer, just one.  You may have a list of reasons, but all you need is the one.  You do not need to get personal and make an assumed judgment on that person’s character – stick to facts and to what you can prove.  A bad customer is not necessarily a bad person.  “I do not appreciate you giving me an ultimatum on these deals.”  “My staff does not appreciate being treated with rudeness when they are just trying to help.”

“He’s an a**hole” may be the best reason you got, but it is not the best reason to use.  Remember, keeping a bad customer may not only be unfair to your staff, but to your other customers as well.  Avoid being hostile and if possible have another manager or owner there with you.

Provide solutions.

As mentioned, if you give them alternatives, you have done your best with this customer until the very end.  As stated, that solution may be recommending them your very own competitors.  There is nothing wrong with that.  As much as you may feel like grabbing that person by the back of the neck and guiding them to your front door so you can then do a last second re-direct launch them through the front store’s main window – yeah, don’t do that.  If you can, offer them a refund understanding that this will make your customer whole again and may make the whole process a lot more painless…it could be worth it in the end.

Remember, there is a difference between a bad customer and a challenging customer.  A challenging customer that is properly taken care of will usually go the extra mile to praise you for taking the time and taking care of them.  A bad customer – well, they just make your life a living hell

I have had no issues saying to a dealer, “We may not be the best agency to suit your needs based on what you mentioned you are looking for but perhaps XYZ agency can help.”  Whether you want it or not at this point, you’ll earn their respect.  You may even find that this new level of respect that the customer now has for you may have changed the roles in your customer-retailer relationship.  Their attitude has changed and well as their demeanor.  They have now come to realize that they do indeed want to do business with you.  It may be too late at this point but that is for you to decide.

Be smart.

Work is meant to be work, not all fun.  But there is no reason you need to pull your hair out dealing with unreasonable people that are simply looking to make your life and place of work miserable.  You will have to make sacrifices.  There may be some real heavy hitters that drop top dollar and expect top service.  You may need to work a little extra hard to earn it – but that is not to say you need to deal with constant abuse, bullying and have a complete disregard for your hard work and efforts.  Is it worth it to you in keeping this customer?  Make a list of pro’s and con’s.  Find out how much they have spent and talk to your staff – get their feedback.  If the answer is, “No,” let them know that they have been terminated as a customer and help them find a “new home.”

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