There are five common myths about customers and customer service that don’t serve businesses well. As business owners, we are too often eager to please every client that walks through the door. That philosophy will likely hurt your business in the long run. So, to protect entrepreneurs, I have identified five harmful myths that business owners and staff should immediately stop believing. I think myth #4 and #5 might surprise you.
1. The customer is always right
Really? The customer is always right? Are they right when they will not pay? Are they right when they return heavily used merchandise? Are they right when they yell at you and your staff and show absolutely no gratitude for your assistance?
Of course not. The customer is not always right if they are a toxic client, a client who does not value your services, your time, and your business model.
You try and do your best for every customer. You take pride in your work. But a toxic client is a step backwards for the conscientious business owner. You will expend twice the effort trying to please this customer but you will never succeed. Meanwhile, your valuable time and energy is sucked away from servicing your good clients, the ones who pay on time and appreciate your services and guidance.
You are free to apply the well-worn adage to your good clients. Treat your best clients the way you would want to be treated. But do not be afraid to treat problem customers differently. Knowing that not every customer is always right and acting accordingly will save you from the time and trouble of a toxic client.
2. New business owners need to take every client who walks in the door
When starting out, you want to establish a client base, make the rent and prove you were right in taking this risk. Plus you feel a little flattered that someone actually wants your services. These and other factors will lead new business owners to eagerly accept any business that walks in the door. There are several problems with this strategy.
First, as experienced business owners know, not every client is a good client. For example, in a consulting context, some clients will have you sit through numerous meetings where they are not interested in budgeting for an engagement. They only want free advice. A new business owner needs to be able to lay out the terms of service and have the strength to say ‘no’ at certain points of the sales process. It is far better to walk away early and focus on the good, paying clients who are coming your way.
Second, some clients prey on new business owners. They know that a ‘newbie’ does not understand how to handle their accounts receivable, or how to use small claims court and collection agencies to get paid. These people seek out young and inexperienced people and take advantage of them.
Although it is counter-intuitive, new business owners must be selective in taking whoever walks in the door. A run of bad and deceitful clients can easily sink a new business.
3. Missed appointments are just a part of being in business
Many professionals, consultants, and other service providers have a business model that depends upon billing for scheduled appointments. A missed appointment is lost revenue, a segment of time that is not easily replaced with another paying client. Too many owners accept no-shows as a cost of doing business, a loss of revenue they must grudgingly accept.
Clients who do not understand your business model must be educated about it. Some owners call a day ahead to confirm appointments and assess penalties for a failure to appear. Others allow for cancellations only with plenty of notice so that last-minute clients can be scheduled in. Maintaining calendar control is crucial for the business’s bottom line.
Clients who do not respect how your money is earned may have to be let go. A personal trainer I know had a wealthy executive who always wanted to change appointments. The executive was oblivious to the notion that a trainer needed to have consistent clients at set times every week to make any money. When the executive refused to pay any late fees for his missed appointments the trainer had to let him go as a client. My trainer friend had the confidence to know that a better client would soon arrive to fill the calendar gap.
4. Every client is entitled to my services
Are clients entitled to your services when they will not pay for them? Set up a retainer or deposit program to receive payment up front, and get the client used to paying. If they will not pay now, it is highly likely you will never collect later.
Are clients entitled to your services when they manipulate the process? Clients with substance abuse problems, be it drugs or alcohol, will seek concessions through manipulations and falsehoods. Their goal is to pay less for your services so they have more money to self-medicate. The lengths they will go would exhaust the rest of us. Do not give into it. They are not entitled to discounted services just because they are impaired. If you can see it coming dismiss them early.
Are clients entitled to your services because they are entitled? Many citizens feel entitled to your services without regard for normal commerce. Many have been conditioned to receive rather than achieve. We have coined the word ‘entitlementia’ to describe the dementia caused by a sustained sense of entitlement. Such people have no remorse for illegally downloading books, music, and movies. They now want your services at no cost and without regard for any need on your part to pay to keep the doors open. You must let them know that they are not entitled to your services.
5. Business owners must always be price sensitive
Do you enjoy dealing with clients who only care about your fees? For some, it is the first question they ask and an ongoing barrage throughout the engagement. They will constantly ask, “How much does this cost?” or “Can I get a break on the fees?”
It can be difficult to work for those who always feel they could have received a better deal down the street. That client is not respecting the specialized services and critical thinking you provide. If they only think about price, they will never fully respect your work. Such a client needs to be told early on that if they think they can get a better deal elsewhere, they probably should go elsewhere.
It can be hard to do this the first few times. You may need the business and need the money. But the casual mention that if price is an issue they should go elsewhere is liberating. It tells the client that you value your services, and that they should too. It shifts the dynamics of the transaction. When they need your services more than you need the money, you are in a much better position. Besides, do you really want to be known as the cheapest provider in town?