Editor’s note: Michelle Stockman is an independent consultant with her company, Fort Smith-based Msaada Group. Stockman earned a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University-Chicago in communications and fine arts, and earned a master’s in entrepreneurship from Western Carolina University. Her thoughts on business success appear each week on The City Wire.
There comes a time in everyone’s life where they are rightfully the victims of terrible customer service. What starts out, typically, as a communication glitch between business and customer grows into another cold war. Sadly, when the customer is not pleased, their Facebook network knows about it quickly leaving the business with damage control.
While providing attentive and proactive customer service is a competitive advantage for businesses who share that value from top to bottom, what do you do with the disgruntled customer? The disgruntled customer may be a one time visitor who’s just having a bad day. Or they are the chronic customers who are always in a bad mood, who are always complaining or find something to complain about and who ultimately find loop holes to discounts to benefit themselves.
I rarely receive calls from entrepreneurs asking how to improve their services to grow their customer base. However, I receive plenty of calls on how to deal with a disgruntled customer in a way that protects their business. Typically, the “knee-jerk” reaction for business owners is fighting fire with fire, but that only creates wild fires incapable of being retained.
For example, a professional services company has been working with a client for two months on a project defined by a statement of work and project plan. The work was progressing on time and on budget with both client and vendor meetings occurring once a week. The client missed a meeting because of business travel and returned with a new direction and proceeded to throw the vendor under the bus. Out of the blue, the vendor was accused of not following the project plan or delivering the agreed upon services.
While the vendor followed the statement of work flawlessly, providing the services and end products as they were defined, the client felt wronged by the vendor and broke the engagement agreement. The client then proceeded to deny payment for services as they felt they did not receive the services they deserved. This left the entrepreneur confused, concerned and upset as he felt his company was providing above and beyond services.
The two companies reached a point where both believed two different stories in regards to the situation. While the entrepreneur wanted to do what was needed to retain the client and make the best out of a situation gone bad, the client felt no need to pay for the services received as the scope no longer fit the goal. Meanwhile, that client freely used the documents developed from the engagement.
This is a classic case of why a strategic plan is critical for a business. In the strategic plan, businesses should evaluate and develop a portrait of the ideal customers (the sweet spot). In marketing and selling, the business needs to target the sweet spot. This provides three critically important results. The first is selling to the sweet spot and finding the customers who are most likely to say yes in sales. Secondly, the sweet spot focus helps maintain the company’s overall focus on the mission. Lastly, sweet spot customers are less likely to become the disgruntled customer.
It is a delicate balance of managing the disgruntled customer’s anger at you. There is no telling why they have an attitude with your business when all they did was walk through the door. Often, there is no helping a customer whose mission is to share their bad mood with you.
However, there are steps to take to diffuse the person while protecting your business from comments made inside and outside the business walls. Offering the disgruntled customers a discrete option of accepting your business or walking away and finding a new source of zen.
Your business is an opportunity to experience what you provide, it is not a right to all. Sometimes, the best business is turning someone away who will harm the business.
Stockman can be reached at [email protected]