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What to do when the customer isn’t right

Posted by Shivali Anand

November 30, 2021    |     5-minute read (870 words)

A primary tenet of customer service is that the customer is always right, yet any entrepreneur will tell you that this isn't always the case. Customers do make mistakes in their requests, behavior and criticism. But how can these uncomfortable situations be resolved in a professional manner?

Avoid pitting customers against employees

A danger of the premise that the customer is always right is that it risks pitting employees and customers against each other. When a company prioritizes customers over its employees' thoughts and expertise, it creates dissatisfaction among the team. Your staff will deliver superior customer service to your customers if they know you support them. 

A better approach to thinking the customer is always correct is to portray yourself (and employees) as the expert. Do this in a friendly manner by assisting customers in determining the best methods for using your product or service. Customers must understand that, while they are valuable, you are the subject matter expert in this circumstance.

How to manage four classic scenarios where the customer is wrong:

  1. When a customer claims to be an industry expert
Customers frequently try to assert that they know more than the company and give unsolicited advice on how the company should operate or how the product or service should function. Assist customers like these by determining their needs and by explaining the product or service you provide. There are many fields where giving the customer what they think they want could be harmful, such as public safety and medicine.

  1. When a customer is unethical or abusive
Assuming that the customer is always right makes dealing with them considerably more challenging for employees. Customers do not have the right to abuse staff just because they purchase a product or service. It's a simple issue of treating your employees with respect and dignity. Customers must be informed that, while you value them, you will not tolerate mistreatment of staff.

Customers who consistently complain, verbally abuse personnel or cause stress for your business are not worth it. It is better to let go of a "difficult customer" who consumes many resources than heighten your employees’ stress. Dropping problematic customers may cost you some revenue in the near term, but it's better for your company's long-term prospects.

  1. When a customer’s demands are unrealistic
When a consumer is dissatisfied with your product because it doesn't accomplish exactly what they expected or because they misused it, rather than caving in to their demands, help them grasp the actual issue.

It does not matter how much time you devote to solving their problems or how many favors you provide, certain customers will continue to complain. When a customer, for example, agrees to use a data center service just for final data but continues to request interim data in the meantime, they are wasting time and resources. This isn't to say you shouldn't appreciate and care for your customers. Instead, in circumstances where the consumer disagrees or demands something you can't provide, you should maintain your composure and manage the request politely.

If you’ve done your best and still can’t appease the customer, it is unwise to keep trying or feeling guilty. It’s better for the business if you close the matter and move on.

  1. When a customer tries to gain an unfair advantage
Modifying your business’s policies, products or services to appease customers will likely cause backlash, even if the change is for the better. Assuming the customer is always right therefore may prevent you from making healthy adjustments to your business.

Strategies for dealing with difficult customers

If a customer’s feedback is incorrect or unreasonable, your employees should have the authority to tactfully deal with them. Your staff should be able to handle this situation responsibly with one of the following tactics:

  • Curtail services – Decide which aspects of a customer's conduct make them unsuitable for your company. The most straightforward solution is an explicit discussion outlining how you can work together in a cohesive manner.
  • Increase prices – Changing pricing and policies to accommodate troublesome consumers can either turn them into lucrative customers or cause them to leave. In either case, this could be the solution to your problem.
  • Open communication – This could lead to a productive working relationship or a friendly parting of ways. Find out how customers ended up in the given scenario, address the core cause and remedy the situation so they don’t feel dismissed by following these steps:
  1. Document the negative impact of the customer on your business’s operations, profitability or morale, and determine what modifications could remedy the situation.
  2. Make customers aware of their expectations' impact on your firm. Present facts in a polite manner and offer suggestions for how to improve the problem.
  3. Pay attention to your consumers' complaints and ask if they're willing to accept revised fees or policies to overcome the issue.
Final advice for employers

Strategic customer onboarding can help you avoid customer issues before they arise. Identify commonalities among problem customers, such as a particular size or industry that is more likely to generate problems. The better you get at avoiding troublesome consumers from the start, the less time you'll have to deal with them later.

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