We’ve all heard the adage “The customer is always right,” and nearly all of us have also discovered how untrue this can be. In this article I’m not referring to customers who are simply mistaken about some minor detail, but those who think that being a buyer entitles them to bully their vendors. If we are going to be socially intelligent salespeople, we need a strategy for handling these types of customers, lest they sap us of our emotional energy, motivation, and sales! (I will refer to these as “clients” rather than “customers” from here on, as I feel it is a more dignifying term).
When the Customer Isn’t Right – Step 1: Negotiate
If your client is nasty to you, take a gentle but firm stand. Here’s what I might say (in person or on the phone, not email!):
“Hey John, we really value your business, but when you [speak rudely to me], it undermines my ability to serve you at my very best. I would appreciate if you could [speak with mutual respect]; that way I can continue providing my very best service to you. Thank you for being so understanding about this!”
If your client changes their attitude towards you, then mission accomplished! If your client doesn’t change their tone however, it might be time to weigh up whether they are worth maintaining. Consider the financial, emotional, and mental costs of the business relationship. Compare it to the returns, and decide if you need to let them go.
When the Customer Isn’t Right – Step 2: Let them go
Doing business should always be win-win. If you feel that the client is gaining and you are losing from the relationship, it might be time to say good-bye. This advice may sound strange, but I am inclined to agree with the numerous business authors, entrepreneurs, and managers who have vouched for this approach. After all, how can you possibly serve your client to the best of your ability if in the back of your mind you dread interacting with them? When letting a client go, always frame it in the client’s best interests without blame. For example, you might say:
“Hi John, I want to thank you for doing business with us for the last [3 years]. While we have enjoyed serving you, we feel that we are no longer the best company to serve your needs. I have compiled a list of other companies that also provide a similar quality of service, and will leave it with you to decide which is best. Thanks once again for choosing us in the first place.”
When the Customer Isn’t Right – Conclusion
Conversations like the above are never easy, but they are necessary for our emotional wellbeing. We will never perform at our best if we have emotional issues with our clients. When negotiating and letting troublesome clients go, don’t forget to don your warmest demeanour, utmost gratitude, and highest respect for your client!
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