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Entrepreneur

When Ebenezer Misbehaves

By Tom Irmen

I remember a business mentor telling a group of small business owners that if certain changes were made to our individual business models, we would likely experience the loss of a small number of our customers. I asked, “Which ones?” My question was intended to be humorous, knowing that every small business owner has a couple of difficult clients they probably wouldn’t mind losing.

So why do we keep these difficult customers around in the first place? Well, if this past recession is any reminder, new customers can often be challenging to come by, and as a result, we often place a higher than normal value on client retention. But if you have a customer who is disruptive to your business, it may be time to take a stand.

My recommendation is that you schedule a face-to-face meeting with your client. Forget the emails and text messages. Sit down with your customer and lay all your cards on the table. Tell them that you appreciate their past business, but describe your areas of disagreement, and attempt to reconcile your differences. In the absence of an agreement, part company. Keep it professional.

We have a rule in our own business that we don’t allow any customer to run our company. Now, that doesn’t mean that we are not accommodating or that we don’t accept constructive criticism. But we do not allow a single customer or a small group of customers to interfere with our ability to serve the needs of the majority of our clients.

It’s been my experience that it requires far less time to replace a troublesome client than it takes to please them, a goal that is often unobtainable in the first place. There’s also far less drama and emotional energy invested.

While we’ve all been told in the past that the customer is always right, I believe that this expression should be modified to say that “reasonable customers are usually right.”

Place a high degree of importance on the valued relationships you have with your customers, but never allow those significant relationships to be undermined by customers you will never be able to please no matter how hard you try.

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