Let’s face it, customers (or clients) are what keep us in business. Without the customer there would be no business, no management, no worker bee, no complimentary coffee that tastes like gym socks in the office kitchen and certainly no revenue.
Customers at the end of the day are the end all be all. Without a willing customer to buy your product or service you will simply cease to exist. The customer and the business are not mutually exclusive, they rely on one another to exist, yet the reality is that often times the one who holds the most influence in the relationship is the customer.
Influence, or power for that matter, has a strange way of changing how people act at times, creating monsters out of women and men.
When customers become tough to deal with many times what we see on the outside isn’t the full picture, to get to the bottom of it we need to dive deeper into the issue to truly understand that persons irritation or frustrations.
Which reminds me of an old story from another lifetime back when I was in high school. I was a server at a small pizza restaurant in the town I grew up in. I loved the job because I got to eat pizza all day long and interact with some really cool people, our customers. Let’s call it like it is, everyone’s happy when they’re getting pizza, so needless to say I really loved this job.
One day a customer came in to pick up a pizza to-go. I had served this customer many times before and what happened that day was the same as every other time we would interacted with this gentleman. He came in and immediately started frothing at the mouth about how his last purchase with our restaurant was awful as he yelled about how it was never on time and ‘the pizza sauce sucked’. "There are never enough pepperoni's on the pizza", he would say. In typical fashion he would then ask to speak with the manager and demand a discount, which most of the time we gave him. It was like groundhogs day, same thing every time with little deviation. I always laughed to myself because he just kept coming back for more like some evil self-inflicted punishment.
I remember thinking to myself, "If our service and food was really that bad, why did he keep coming back?"
One day our manager finally had enough and confronted the man. I’d love to say it was me but I was a pimply faced 16 year old and certainly not gutsy enough to speak back to a customer and risk losing my pizza privileges, or job for that matter. The restaurant manager interrupted the man’s banter, took him a side and asked, “Sir, why do you continue to give us your business if you dislike our food so much. You seem awfully upset and often treat my employees rather poor. Is everything okay?”
As I ease dropped in on the conversation I was shocked at the response from the customer.
“I’m sorry Tim. (our manager’s name) I was fired from my job a couple months ago, as a result I lost my house so I’m living out of my car and pizza is the cheapest, easiest thing for me to eat. Please let your staff know how much I appreciate them as they are always nice to me, even though I’m not a very pleasant person myself.”
My mouth dropped to the floor. None of us knew why this person was always such an irritable grump, we just knew that when he came in the door he was always angry and seemed to enjoy taking it out on the servers.
Our manager decided to give him the pizza he ordered for free and invited him back the following day so that the man could watch our team go through the process of making pizzas. The manager wanted him to see that the food was good quality and we cared about our customers. He also threw in a free lunch for the guy, more than I would of done, certainly.
Best part of the story was after the customers ‘field trip’ to our restaurant ended that following day our manager offered him a job delivering pizzas so he could earn some money until he was able to get back on his feet.
I learned an incredibly valuable lesson that day which taught me to take the time to confront tough situations rather than let those situations own me in the process. As a result I’m a firm believer that you attract more bees with honey than you do with sledgehammers.
Once we understand what is driving a customer to act in a certain way we can then respond with a solution that hopefully changes the course of the relationship moving forward.
These 5 steps are a great way to get to the bottom of your customers frustrations so you can then start focusing on turning around the relationship:
“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” - Wayne Dyer
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.