Stop Paying People to Drive You Crazy
Why 'the customer is always right' is wrong.
I love great barbeque and often stop by my favorite BBQ restaurant, have a beverage, socialize with the staff and get an order for takeout. This particular evening, the bartender rolled her eyes and said, "I knew I should have told them to put on another order of ribs."
I looked at her quizzically and asked what she was talking about. She said that a couple who are regulars just came in and ordered ribs. They always find something to complain about so that they can either get free dessert, extra food or something taken off the bill. Predictably, there was something wrong with the order.
Clearly, she was very disturbed over this, as it appeared their strategy was to gain an advantage simply by complaining every time they came in.
Is the customer always right?
The business owners were very clear that "the customer is always right" and they refused to do anything about these moochers. It really upset the staff, because to them, this was the equivalent of watching shoplifters walk off with free merchandise on a regular basis. The employees were clearly irritated with having to cater to these folks, and it seriously affected morale.
Most small business owners have grown up with the concept that "the customer is always right," and this is a serious mistake. Here are a few reasons why:
• It means your business regards problem customers as more important than your employees. Why do you believe that your valued employees should be forced to smile, be nice and give gifts to consumers who misbehave? Once you've established that your business culture values grumpy people more than your employees, the team spirit is gone. Supporting the team now means working with more people who really should be committed to the home for the terminally unpleasant. The success of the company is no longer foremost on your employees' minds. Now your business is actively engaged in training customers to be crabby, for they get a treat every time they are.
Tough customers can be draining
These types of consumers take a lot of time to handle. They're not like our best customers, who come in smiling and willingly open their hearts and wallets to us. Our best ones take very little of our time, and our worst ones take the most. So, why do we want to focus our best time and efforts on those we're never going to make happy anyway? These people suck the life out of you and make everything far more work than it ever needed to be. They rob you of joy and the good mood you were in just a few moments ago.
So, after working with someone like this, what do you believe are the odds your valued employees will be able to cheerfully greet the next person to call or come in the door? It's tough to smile right after you've had to struggle to control your blood pressure while dealing with a "crabby." How much can you ask of your people and is it reasonable to do so?
I fully believe this is one of the biggest reasons we fail to sell appointments to those on the phone and sell diagnostics and needed repairs to those in the shop. We're suffering from reflexes due to working with too many difficult customers. Pretty soon, we're seeing all our customers in that light and it affects our outlook far too much. We get so used to putting on our armor and assuming a defensive position just to come to work that we lose sight of the fact that our primary mission is to develop a working, long-term relationship with nice people. Once your workers concern themselves more with covering themselves defensively than with working to excel at their jobs, your company's good name is in jeopardy.
Bad customers should not be rewarded
• Problem customers adversely affect our best customers. One of my best customers recently had an unpleasant experience at my shop and I had to find out about it through a third party. I was finally able to talk to her privately about it. She said there were people she worked with who were proud to always find things wrong with whatever they purchased, so they could get a reduced price or extra benefits (I'm not making this up). For that reason, she said she didn't want to complain to me about her experience, because she didn't want me to think that she was like those people. People who behave this way love to brag about it to others and tell them what they got for their trouble. How do you think this makes our best customers feel - to know that they just paid full retail for something the difficult customers got for a reduced price?
Think about our good customers who see a loud, unhappy person complaining at our service desk. That sends a poor message about our service to other customers. Maybe there's nothing wrong with us ... maybe it's just one of those complainers.
• The manager has to handle this one. One very important job of a manager is to train the staff and evaluate performance. I would add that it's just as important to evaluate the performance of customers as it is the staff. One of my service advisers was about three months into her job when she dropped the ball with a customer and I had to call and fix it. As she listened to me talk to the customer, I told the customer that the situation wasn't handled correctly and it was all my fault. I said I was the one responsible for it, I was sorry it happened and I'd work to correct it. At the end of the call, the customer was very reasonable and happy.
After I hung up, my service adviser looked at me with huge eyes and said, "You stuck up for me and you defended me." I replied that I had because she had simply not received the necessary training yet for that particular situation. She was too new and it was my fault that it happened. That moment in time changed our relationship forever. I don't believe she'd ever had a supervisor who stood up for her before.
Some months later, she made a man really mad who was trying to make an appointment. As she was telling me the story, it sounded as if he was just deliberately being abrasive to her. Thinking back, he was a guy I had always had to take care of, as he'd ticked off every female I had ever had on the front counter. Not one of them wanted to work with him. I realized a pattern of abuse here. I was used to playground bullies and, once I'd punched them in the nose, so to speak, we'd laugh and be friends. This guy was "one of those." He followed up with a nasty email about how he always had trouble with us, that he expected more, and now he was going to have to find another shop.
This woman is the best service adviser I've ever had on the front counter and she never has trouble with people. I realized the truth. Even though this particular customer had spent a lot of money with us over many years, he was too costly emotionally to the staff.
My email reply to him was simple and direct: "It is unfortunate our business is not able to make you happy. We'll miss you."
• Less is more. The best thing you can do for your shop is to realize you just can't help everyone. You can't be all things to all people and not everyone who darkens your door is someone you want to do business with. There are people out there you can't afford to have as customers. Whether they take an emotional or financial toll on you, or both, perhaps it's time to rethink your business at it relates to them. You need to accept the fact no business will have happy customers until it first has happy workers.
Put the blame on yourself. Tell the "crabbies" you're just not good enough for them. You're not making them happy and you're "just not the shop they're looking for." Smile, be nice and be firm. After all, if they complain every time they come in, it's a true statement.
Your staff will be happier, you'll have fewer phone calls to make to "irate customers" and I'll bet your sales will go up because your employees will have more time for those who really do buy from you and are happy to do so.
Maybe it's time for a new policy at your shop: "If you're crabby, we won't fix your car."
Editor's Note: This article is one of several management articles that will be contributed to AutoInc. this year by Automotive Management Institute (AMI) instructors. In 2011, AMI's knowledgeable instructors will continue covering a variety of topics designed to educate and train today's service and repair professional in AutoInc. To learn more about AMI, its courses and instructors, visit www.AMIonline.org. AMI administers the distinguished Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) program.
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