“I’m sorry, Mr. Jones… I think, given the circumstances, another company could serve you better,” I said calmly, even though I was actually pretty ticked off at the way he had spoken to my best CSR, my Dispatcher and my most experienced Tech. I braced myself for the blowback, but instead, he apologized profusely and begged us to reschedule the call and allow him to get back into our good graces. Since this was not his first offense but one of many, I stuck with the advice I had learned about breaking up with a girlfriend when I knew it wasn’t going to work out and went with, “”It’s not you, it’s me.” So, I invited him again to go hire (and likely abuse) my competition.
Why not just take his money? Because Mr. Jones was not my customer. He was among the five percent of customers who were causing 90 percent of our problems and we were on a mission to move them out. And he was destroying our company’s culture and I wasn’t going to let that happen.
After all, I had always told my staff, “You’re my #1 customer and I know that how I treat you is how I hope you’ll treat our customers. So, know that my family is committing to treating you with the respect you deserve.”
Well, if I meant it… and I did… there comes a time I had to fire a customer to prove that I’d be willing to put my money where my mouth was and stick up for the team.
To be clear, I’m not advocating that you get great at firing clients, but if you’re like me and saying to your employees that they’re number one (and they should be) it’s your responsibility to protect them from customers who are unsafe, unsanitary or downright abusive.
Here are four customer behaviors and one situation you shouldn’t tolerate and how you can handle them.
- The Verbal Abuser
- Offense: Verbally abuses everyone he or she comes into contact with rude language over the phone or in person (and know we’re used to some cussing being New Yorkers but you know what I mean). And know that we understand and we’d talk about it in meetings all the time that if we were them, the customer, and in distress with a plumbing, heating, cooling or electrical emergency we too could lose our cool. This speaks to it being more insulating and more personal.
- Remedy: Owner visits in person or calls customer directly. Never do this in email or a text! You start by saying something like I used to, “We understand everyone has a bad day. But so far you’ve yelled at everyone you’ve come into contact with, more than once, and frankly that is not acceptable to my employees or me. It needs to stop so we can continue to care for your plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical needs. That said, if it happens again after we’ve spoken today we will respectfully refuse to provide service.” If they like you and like what your company does for them “abuse aside,” most of these people, in my long experience, will fall into line. And if not, your staff will know that you stuck up for them.
- The CONSTANT Price Shopper
- Offense: Knows the price ahead of time and signs the invoice or the proposal and then calls the next day after the work was done and they signed off on the Exit Checklist to re-negotiate the price.
- Remedy: I would call them or visit and I’d say something like this, “Did our Tech explain your options? Did they quote you the price so you could approve the work before they started? Did they do an expert repair and is what they came to do done the right way? If the answer is yes, then our company has a policy called ‘Shop Once' which means I’m happy to make an adjustment if you feel we fell short. But know that I’m making a note in your customer account that we talked.
If you call again, and I hope you do, the price is the price. And the reason the price is as it should be is so we can train our staff at our shop not your home, we can answer our phones ourselves 24/7/365, have the fully stocked trucks and the best technology there is in the industry. If all of this is important, then we’re the right value if not the cheapest price.”
- The Unsanitary Slob… No Judgment… Well maybe a little
- Offense: Worksite is littered with animal feces (or worse).
- Remedy: Again, a visit or at least a phone call to gently explain. “Your home and in particular the areas we are called to work in have been flagged by our Techs as unsafe and unsanitary. We take protecting their health and safety as seriously as we take protecting you when we do our work. So, you’ll need to please clean it up and when it is we’ll be happy to stop back to make sure it’s safe for us to continue service here. It’s our sincere hope that this will be the case as we’d love to continue to provide you with the top notch service you deserve.” Most people will be embarrassed but they will do it. If they refuse, that’s okay you need to formalize notice that we won’t do future service and they are free to call someone else.
- The Skater who’s trying to slip by us… Show me the money!
- Offense: Calls for service but hasn’t paid the bill from the last time.
- Remedy: Have the CSR inform the customer that they have been flagged in the system and that the previous bill must be paid before any service can be performed.
Quick story: We had made a list of people we were not going to service anymore for various reasons, which we called the “red” list. CSRs were supposed to be discrete about this but on this occasion it was a brand new CSR who didn’t remember and so she told the customer outright, “I’m sorry we can’t serve you because you’re on the red list.” The customer said, “What’s the red list? And more importantly how do I get off it?” The CSR told him that we would come out only if we could pick up the cash for the bill in arrears plus the money for the current call and he immediately agreed!
- The Unsafe Situation
- Sometimes it’s not a person but a situation that you have to walk away from. An example of this from my own experience is that we stopped doing service on rooftop heating units because when it got cold up there I literally could not think. Some jobs are just so risky, it’s better to just make a policy that you don’t do that kind of work.
If your contracting business is very new, you might need to say yes to everyone at first, I get it. To earn the right to be choosy you’ll need to hone your craft. The other thing you need to do is figure out what it costs to be in business and then engage in marketing to drive the right amount of calls from the right customers at the right time, so you can be picky. If you’re not good at sales and marketing you won’t have the guts to do this. Having more calls coming in than you could possibly do gives you the strength and the ability to pick and choose.
But if it’s too abusive, too unsanitary, or too dangerous, you may want to consider saying no anyway to make room for that customer who will behave in the way you want and deserve to be treated.