by Steven Lewis
I might be committing retail suicide but at some point you need to fire your customers. Bottom line is that no business today can afford to keep unprofitable customers. No business today can afford to keep customers that abuse good employees and push you past your limits. The sad reality is that dealing with customers is just like dealing with children. Unless you set clear rules and guidelines they will see just how far they can push you. Why can’t we hold our customers to the same values as we hold our employees? The simple truth is we can but we don’t.
I do think that every situation is different. In fact, I do honestly believe in giving the customer the benefit of the doubt, but only if doubt exists, as I always try to walk in the customer’s shoes and look at things from their perspective— until they prove they are a complete and total jerk. Yes, customers can be unreasonable and that is when it is necessary to step back and fire them.
One recent example was a customer who purchased her tile from our store. She also received a quote from us to install the tile but chose to use another contractor. After he installed the tile she heard a noise coming from inside the wall. Her contractor was long gone when she realized the noise was in fact coming from her cat that had crawled between the 2 x 4s before her contractor closed up the wall with drywall and then tiled. Ah, the joy when the telephone call comes and I hear that “Your tile is keeping my cat in the wall.”
No, I’m not kidding when I say it was this customer’s position that it was my tile’s fault that her cat was stuck in her wall. When I suggested she have her contractor who did the work correct the problem she informed me the contractor had left and couldn’t find him. I then politely corrected her in that it was her tile that was keeping her cat in the wall.
While I can truly understand she was upset, this was clearly not our fault and the customer was not right in trying to blame us. I suggested she find another contractor to break a hole in the wall to remove the cat and then have the contractor patch the wall with new drywall and tile. She then told me she didn’t want to break my tile, to which I politely responded that she would not be breaking my tile but would be breaking her tile. After what seemed like hours going round and round with her I did inform her that because the tile she purchased was one that we had in stock at least she could purchase more to match the dye lot originally installed by her contractor.
You might think that this example is a little extreme but let me assure you it is only one of many calls we get from customers who feel that because they are a customer they can do no wrong. When in doubt every good business person will give the customer the benefit. However, when it becomes apparent that a customer has crossed the line it is time to fire that customer and move on.
Come to think of it I don’t know anyone who is always right. However, I do know people who run their business with integrity and set standards of behavior that everyone can be proud of. When a customer is rude, crude or abusive it is time to draw the line. In order to ensure your employees have quality in their life they are entitled to an abusive-free workplace. In fact, you are entitled to require that your customers act in a manner that is not offensive. Think about it. Whatever happened to the golden rule? Whatever happened to taking responsibility for one’s behavior? No, the customer in not always right.
Steven Lewis is owner of Lewis Floor & Home in Northband, Ill.