The customer is always right

There are countless cliches and adages regarding how businesses should treat their customers; “Look after your customers because if you don’t someone else will” and “A good relationship can take years to build but seconds to destroy” are a couple that spring to mind.

In any competitive industry (which most are) despite our best endeavours we will lose customers from time to time. And that’s using our best endeavours. So what might happen to your business should you not use your best endeavours?

It was a recent business experience that provided me with some food-for-thought and lead to this very blog-post and a shining example of how not to treat your customers.

You see, when trying to win new business, personal recommendation is right up there in second place as the very best kind of business introduction we can hope to get. Why? Because trust is transferrable. Person 1 trusts Person 2, Person 2 trusts Person 3, therefore Person 1 trusts Person 3 – even if Person 1 and Person 3 have never met, the introduction of these two people by Person 2 instills Person 1 and Person 3 with the same trust they already have in Person 2. Yes there are exceptions to every rule, but simplified and generalised that’s how it works.

Still reading? Good. Now those paying attention will be thinking “So if that’s second place, what’s first?”. Hopefully you will already know the answer and when I give it it will seem obvious.

Your existing customers. “Oh of course”, I hear you say. It is obvious really isn’t it? Apologies if the build-up has left you feeling a bit flat after the simplicity of the statement.

So why mention it? Well because as well as being the best source of business for many reasons, it can also work against you just as well.

It’s time for another cliche. Now I don’t remember the exact numbers involved but it’s something like; “For every person you provide with a good service, they are likely to only tell 2 other people. But for every person you provide with a bad service, they will tell 10 other people.”

So I’m sure you can deduce from that statement, that no matter what reason a customer might give for terminating a contract with you and how bad a decision that you think it might be. Don’t argue with them if they fail to come around to your point of view, especially if there is still a potential to do business with them again in the future, or if you would still like to get referrals from them.

Small businesses especially need to take heed of this advice. If your business is you and you damage a relationship with one of your customers, you can’t get a colleague to take-over for you, the damage may be unrepairable. Like screwing up a painting; you may be able to flatten it back out, but it will never be perfect again and there will always be a reminder of the time it was screwed up.

I’ll leave you with two scenarios:-

Scenario 1;

You are a regular customer of a business, who always pays on time and you act as an ambassador for this business at every opportunity. You call to canel your contract with this business. You tell them that despite there being no problem with the service that they are providing you with, you just don’t think it’s right for you at the moment. You point out that you may return in the future.

Naturally this business is disappointed to be losing you as a customer so they try to talk you out of it but still you are convinced that you are making the right decision at the time. However because you are happy with this company overall and enjoy a good relationship with them, you put forward a proposal for another service that you are interested in buying to see if the company can adapt and provide the new service that you require, so that you can continue to do business with them.

They react angrily, telling you they want to terminate the contract immediately, they don’t even want your final payment and they are not interested in your proposal to have them provide the new service you are looking for. In fact they seem decidedly insulted by your offer to continue the relationship.

Scenario 2;

The same as above, however after trying unsuccessfully you talk you out of terminating your contract with them, they thank you for your business to date and ask if they can keep in touch.

And whilst they aren’t able to provide the new service you are interested in buying, they try to help by making some personal recommendations to you.

Which of these two outcomes would make you most likely to deal with this business again in the future and continue to recommend it to others?

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