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Why the Customer is Not Always Right

Why the Customer is Not Always Right

Sometimes it pays to stand up to disgruntled patrons.

If you want to succeed in business it doesn’t always pay to be a people-pleaser. Sometimes it’s right to bend over backwards for a complaining customer; their feedback might present an opportunity to turn a disgruntled so-and-so into a fan forevermore.

But there are times when sticking with “the customer is always right” mantra will be bad for you and your business. Sometimes you have to say no.  We don’t want to mould our entire business practice on someone who comes once every 20 years.

A couple of years ago the Newman family had a “light-bulb moment” concerning customer complaints. The family behind Dracula’s Cabaret Restaurants in Melbourne and on the Gold Coast decided to stop taking complaints so seriously.

Project development manager Luke Newman says the family realised it had been watering down its core brand because of the feedback from social media and review sites such as TripAdvisor. Up to 1200 people were visiting its venues each night, and 99 per cent were providing positive feedback, but Newman says the company was getting “bogged down” in the negative comments.

The epiphany translated into a complaints website with mock reviews based on real complaints. The family posted comments in response that were “a little bit cheeky, a little bit fun”, like their brand. One of the most common complaints: the show isn’t what it used to be 20 years ago (the company is 34 years old and its shows now include burlesque performances and are for over-18s only). Part of its response: “Seriously . . . you came 20 years ago? Have you changed at all in 20 years? Is it possible that you’re slightly out of touch with what’s popular nowadays?”

Newman says: “We thought: we don’t want to mould our entire business practice on someone who comes once every 20 years. We want to be fresh and new for the people who are coming back each year.”

He says the company still responds to serious complaints but the website has freed up time to concentrate on positive aspects of the business. “Rather than focusing on all the negatives that people may have we can really now emphasise what’s great about the product, spend more time on building our brand loyalty and really looking after the customers that we want to have in.”

Not every business has a brand that would make such a tack a wise idea, but it highlights how getting clarity on your ideal customer and who really contributes the profits to your business can help you decide how to respond to complaints.

If you’re overservicing a whingeing customer who brings few profits to your business, the answer could be cutting them loose and concentrating on clients who are profitable.

That might mean not trying too hard to please a chronic complainer who makes your life a misery by constantly raising their demands or expectations.

Robert Gerrish, founder of Flying Solo, suggests dealing with such clients by working out the pros and cons of servicing them. This should include looking at the real cost of service, not just the dollars they bring in.

“If that person gives you $2000 a month but you’re horrible to your children, you wake up in the morning feeling miserable every time you know you’ve got a meeting with them and you need to go and sit down for an hour after you’ve had a meeting with them, then the true cost is much greater than $2000 and they should be told to sod off,” he says.

Before kowtowing to a complaint, also try looking at what might be behind it. As Annabelle Drumm, business and life coach at Kitegirl Coach, points out, sometimes you’ve just been caught in the crossfire. In a previous role with a talent management business she encountered a client who was busily venting her spleen about arrangements ahead of her wedding day. When Drumm took the time to ask her what was really happening, it turned out an estranged parent had come back into her life and was creating turmoil. “Sometimes just listening with a compassionate ear makes a big difference,” she says.

But it doesn’t always take a psychological shakedown to work out when to rebuff a whingeing customer. Sometimes they are just plain wrong – they have overlooked factual information on a website or in an email – and they need to know that.

“Don’t even feel defensive about it,” says Drumm. “Just do it in a nice and light and friendly way.”


*Original Article by Christine Long: