The Irate Customer

Last night while volunteering at a Halloween Festival for a non-profit, I had a rather unpleasant interaction with some angry customers. They were not happy with the price of admission: I guess I must have missed the guy standing outside the door who forced them to come in and pay it. “Who is this benefiting, anyway?” one said, “Padding someone’s pockets, I bet.”

Padding someone’s pockets indeed! We’re talking $5 to get in; I understand it can get pricey with a big family. We’re on a tight budget ourselves. But it’s not Disney World, or even a third of the cost of the local children’s museum. I doubt the event organizers will even break even and they certainly won’t be compensated for the extra time they put into it; at any rate, the money will go into the organization’s account.

But the thing is, I have been that irate customer. I have been angry over trivial, passing matters and I have made people sad because of it. Even as I was appalled at the pettiness of these people and their stubborn insistence on not enjoying something that they had apparently paid so dearly to attend, I knew it could be me.

When I debriefed with my husband, I said “I think my blog post is in this incident.”

“Talk about the concept of firing your worst customer,” he said. He elaborated about how it is often not worth the effort to cater to people who won’t be happy no matter what you do. It also isn’t profitable to cut your prices to the lowest possible point in an effort to appeal to tightwads. It’s better to just let them go. I understand, and I agree…to a point.

Frankly, I’m more of a “the customer is always right” type. I know all too well that the customer is often not right, and, of course, you can’t give in to every demand or give really crabby people special favors just to make them go away. Not usually, anyway. But the principles I aim for in my personal life–humility, compassion, unselfishness–have to inform my business practices, too.

As far as firing my worst customers, to me it means that if they leave because I won’t offer them something–a price cut or other special favors–that the business can’t support, I shouldn’t stress out about it. It doesn’t mean that I forget to care about people, or that I don’t try to understand where they are coming from. I’m capable of understanding all too well.

The customer being always right to me means biting my tongue even when they aren’t right, reining in my own frustration, not responding in kind, gently correcting if necessary. I do angry so much more naturally…but it’s no way to run a business, especially when you deal with the public, and it’s no way to be as a person. I’ve seen business owners who didn’t think about the needs of their customers, and I’ve seen those businesses tank.

What do you think? How do you deal with difficult customers?

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