Sunday, August 19, 2007

Is it OK to fire a customer?

I answer with an emphatic YES!! It does not matter what type of business you’re in, there are those rare occasions when no matter what you do, how you respond, and the solutions offered, a customer just can’t be appeased. I determined many years ago that life is too short and precious to be spending time trying to fix those things out of my control. I can’t fix customers who are angry by nature and I refuse to become engaged in their tongue lashing fits. Thankfully, in all my years of business, firing a customer is rare but sometimes absolutely necessary.

So what’s my point? Well, you have probably guessed I’ve recently fired a customer. From a business owner’s perspective I wanted to point out a few things to keep in mind when presenting a complaint to a company.

1) When you have an issue, email or call. State the problem EXPECTING a solution. Most companies are very willing to work toward a resolution as long as they’re not put on the defense. Sending emails with angry undertones that are accusatory, or stating “I will never order from you again!” are probably not the best way to get a company or individual to work with you.

2) Don’t immediately assume that the problem or issue is the fault of the company or a result of inferior product. Is it possible that you did not use the product as directed or for its recommended purpose? Example cited:

A customer emails that a mold cracked and bowed on first use. Since the mold was received in good order, there should be some level of responsibility on the part of the customer. Plastic molds don’t just crack and bow for no reason. Was the soap poured at too high of a temperature? Was excessive forced used to release a mold? Was the soap completely set-up before trying to remove from mold? Obviously the company supplying the product can’t be held accountable for improper use.

Another example: A customer contacts a company with accusations that the soap colors ordered are defective. Their once pink soaps are now turning orange and the entire batch of soap is ruined. The customer wants full compensation for the ruined batch. Further investigation reveals this customer used food grade colorants in the soap base. The company specifically indicates on their web site that food grade colors are not colorfast in soap base and should be used in shower gels and lotions only. The customer made a uninformed choice even though the information was clearly posted. At what point should the customer assume responsibility?

3) Be flexible when trying to negotiate compensation. If it’s truly a defective product then state your case and what you believe is fair compensation. If you’ve received the wrong item, politely ask for a “prepaid call tag” so the product can be returned for the correct item. Certainly, it would serve no purpose for a company to intentionally ship incorrect or damaged product. It costs a company added expense every time they have to reship or replace items from a previous order. Remember, companies are operated by humans. Like it or not, they are subject to human error.

The next time you have an issue with a company, whether it’s a damage claim, a wrong item, or something missing, keep it in perspective. Blowing up, lashing out, and placing blame will surely not put you in the good graces of the person who is empowered to “fix” the problem and could get you fired!

NOTE: To the supplier who inherits this recently fired customer, I say GOOD LUCK!

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