Poisoning Your Customers

Last week a Flathead Beacon reader sent me a nice note about a column that he liked, and while doing so, posed a question.

He said “One thing I am dying to read from you, is how do you get rid of a pain in the butt client — or a pathological recreational shopper — or the perfectionist from hell — without him or her poisoning your other customers?

He’s not in for what he probably expected.

In my experience, few clients really, truly need to be fired (aka “gotten rid of”).

Why not just fire them?

Three reasons:

  • If they really, truly are worth firing, it’s often easier to get them to fire themselves without any negative consequences for you. Raise the bar on what it takes to become/remain a customer. The benefits of doing this are substantial.
  • If they aren’t worth firing but are simply a thorn in your side, it’s the person in the mirror (you and your business) that needs to make changes. Once the thorny customer is satisfied, they usually become one of your biggest fans. I’ve seen it time and time again.
  • How hard is it to get a new customer? What does it cost in time, effort and money?

As I said, if they really need to go, I prefer to work things out so that they fire themselves. But that isn’t the question he asked, so let’s address it.

Back to the question

Let’s do the easy one first – The “pathological recreational customer”.

Some things to consider:

  • Are they coming into your store just to get warm? Obvious…maybe, but be careful. More on that soon.
  • Are they shopping for someone else?
  • Are they a mystery shopper?
  • Are they investigating but not personally planning to buy? The smart ones aren’t going to tip their hand until price comes up and the business is ready to buy.
  • Did they randomly walk into your store?
  • Are they doing price comparisons on your store for a competitor? Note: anyone with a smart phone can do this. Get over it. In fact, get over price as the ONLY competitive edge. Part of your edge, fine. All of your edge? Not so fine.
  • Is their recreational shopping a burden to your business?

Have you talked to them? “I notice that you like to browse through our store but you haven’t become a customer. Is there something you need that we don’t offer?” and take the conversation from there. Again, be careful. You gain nothing from embarrassing a (potential) customer, but there is plenty to lose.

Keester pain

The next easiest one is the “Pain in the Butt customer”.

Let’s consider the reason they’re a pain. It could be one or more of these:

  • The customer is just one of those angry-at-the-world kinds of people.
  • The customer is not being treated in a manner that meets or exceeds their expectations.
  • The customer is not being treated well by anyone’s definition.
  • The customer bought a product or service that doesn’t meet or exceed the expectations you set, which again could mean that you didn’t set any. Sometimes called “merchantability”, we ask the question “Is the product/service reasonably able to solve the problem or fill the need it was being sold for?”
  • The customer has unreasonable expectations.

Note the operative word? Expectations. Do a better job of setting them.

The pain in the butt can most often be turned into your best reference by simply becoming their advocate.

Boy, it’s hot in here

The “perfectionist from hell” is the one you’ll be most tempted to get rid of. Problem is, they often fit into the “keester pain” category.

More often than not, they’re really an indicator that your product line or services are missing one or more tiers of service at the high end. Yep. It’s probably an opportunity. Isn’t that cool?

People like this often have high personal accountability standards and (right or not) hold others to those same standards. Your regular products and services at their regular prices aren’t a good fit for them and their appearance of perfectionism is a good indicator of that.

Add another level.

A higher quality product with a greater level of service attracts a customer who might be a perfectionist and is also willing to pay more for that level of quality.

It’s also a great way of defining expectations for the customer BEFORE they make the purchase and allowing them to choose how they’re served.

It’s Chevy Suburban vs. Cadillac Escalade. Both have a market.

5 replies on “Poisoning Your Customers”

  1. As someone who was once a pathological recreational shopper, I’d like to add this to the mix. The reason I was that was simple — no money. But when I started earning more I shopped at the places who were kind to me in my window-shopping days. Keep that in mind.

    1. Amy, thats an excellent point. Its part of what I was covering with my “be careful” comment. In a future post, Ill be emphasizing the point with a story I heard from Dallas’ most successful Porsche salesperson. Thanks for commenting:)

  2. What about “customers” that come use you to learn and and research specialty products with the intention of buying them off auction sites? Their whole purpose in coming is to mine your knowledge to serve their own ends. This customer will either never buy from you or if he does will spend little more than pocket change while taking up hours of your time and taking you away from other customers.

    1. How do you tell the difference between them and others? Unless you have something in place to do that, you often cant until it’s too late. If that’s so, and you treat them poorly up front by assuming that’s why they are there, you run the risk of alienating a real customer.

      If you know a difference that you can depend on, use it as a hurdle – something that prospects (and different levels of customers) do to self-select themselves – and thus indicate to you that they are customers, or even a better customer.

      I dont know what biz you’re in, but few businesses are in a position that they cant do this.

      That aside, this situation exposes a possible upside. Are your prospects and customers are limited to obtaining information in person? Other resources (like a website/blog) will allow you to bring up the downside of buying whatever you sell from an auction site, a conversation you probably wouldn’t start in person.

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