“That One Customer” The Client Delusion (Part 4)

Navigating the Client Delusion Written by Kyle Sipkens

Part four in our business series exploring better business practices in how to handle select situations with customers and improve your approach to client relationships. In this instalment, we begin to Navigate the Client Delusion…

“That one Customer”

I worked a lot of job to put myself through University. One of them – inevitably – was as a server at a popular chain restaurant. No matter your personal abilities of the ability of your team members, at some point you’re likely to encounter “That one customer”.

One particular day, a customer was seated for lunch with two other guests. Once I approached the table, I was greeted with a blunt tone stating the customer was ready to order immediately. I happily took the order while the colleagues quickly broke conversation and hastily tried to find what they wanted from the menu as well. I presumed the customer was in a hurry and got their drinks quickly, followed by the food as soon as it hit the counter in the kitchen window. I placed the meal on the table and – without looking down – the customer said the meal was cold and to bring it back.

I was stunned for a moment, then put in a rush order for a new meal. The kitchen rushed to remake the dish as I sat waiting by the pass-through. I ran the food out immediately to ensure the customer had time to eat. The plate was burning my hand as I set it down and – before the plate could hit the table- the customer looked at the plate and said: “This is cold too. Take it back…”

“It’s good to know when to walk away…”

At this point, I pulled in the assistance of the general manager. After explaining what was happening, he personally worked along side staff to get a replacement in time while I brought out a complimentary appetizer to eat through the wait (… The customer must be hungry by this point). I brought out the replacement as quickly as I could.

This time, while looking me directly in the eye, the customer stated that the food was still not fit to eat and followed it with a public announcement to the whole restaurant that the service was deplorable. The lunch companions at this point were visibly uncomfortable. I apologized for the plate (which was steaming in sweltering July heat) and brought in the manager to address the customer. The manager offered to make any replacement dish free of charge as well as a gift card for the inconvenience. Needless to say there was not a tip on the table as the group left but there were three perfectly good meals left in the warmer at the end of my lunch shift.

Some customers you’re not going to please. It’s good to know when to walk away and to understand some customers aren’t looking for a resolution. You never know what may have happened before a customer came through your door. Some may be acting on something that happened earlier that day – having nothing to do with you whatsoever (called transference). And sometimes, it’s something different entirely!

How can we look to avoid problems before they start?
Are there measures we can put in place to ensure our business is not left at a standstill waiting on a client response? How can we prevent nearly impossible resolutions before they start? If things do ‘go sour’ in a customer relationship, are we left in the dust?

1. Make you customer a partner!
Helping your client to understand how your business operates – especially for long term projects requiring planning- can help them understand what timelines are manageable for you and how they can ensure you stay in business!

Many companies assumed ‘Nobody wants to know how an egg is made, they just want the omelette on their plate’ (or interchange with your commonly overused analogy here). Today’s market is proving that’s not the case! A shift toward beyond simply ‘organic’ to artisanal consumer trends show that consumers are not only interested in what their getting, but willing to help support independent producers who are bringing a quality product that benefits them. Perhaps this is also why more and more big box/mega stores are downsizing or closing completely?

If you’re a self-employed, small business or entrepreneur, chances are your business is your passion project!  The character behind your company may be its strongest asset. Telling your story and making your customer a partner may give them a sense that they’re giving back and a sense of pride in supporting the sustainability of your operations.

This changes your business from simple transactions into relationship interactions! And wouldn’t you rather see friends everyday than customers?

2. Set Deadlines
Set a clear timeline early with your client so they understand the time involved for you to realize a project and maintain your commitment to have resources available for it (for any size business).

“Not to worry, we’re moving forward! Please send us the contract!” There’s a good chance that every client will return their signed contract on time! However, a business owner needs to prepare for the exception since, without a signed contract, you may not have recourse to collect from that client owing you money. So what’s the hard learned lesson here?

Every quote/contract should have an ‘expiration date’! Quotes need to be returned (with signature) by your set date to receive a contract (which includes a clause for the date to be returned). Otherwise the offer will expire and cost will be affected. The closer a project deadline gets, the more time/resources you will need to devote to realize a project. So even if you quoted on the project early, a client who waits to confirm you on the project will have a real affect on your cost to make the project happen. “Rush orders” always have an increased rate! Even if it’s demanding you putting in over time (not to mention potential staff over time rates) this is an impact on your company’s cost and resources!

Similarly, any contract should also set a payment plan with clear deadlines for payments including the full amount, what constitutes each payment being due (whether by completing certain project goals or by calendar date) and if their are any obligations/penalties for any party not reaching their goal (i.e. contractor being fined $x /day for a project not completed by set date or client paying $x /term for missing payment deadline.

3. Signature at Every Step
Start it with your quote! Have a place at the bottom to sign/date before returning as a signed commitment BEFORE drafting the contract. This will have a confirmed commitment by the client to begin the timely process of developing a full contract while your (or your legal representation) develop a contract, await a deposit/first instalment and BEFORE you begin any creative or devote time/resources/staff to the project.

4. Respect Your Value
You know what your time is worth. Clearly every moment of your life is precious (no one is denying that) but when someone asks you to do “a little extra time” or to do a project “pro bono” ask yourself a few questions:

  • Can I afford this time or will I be putting a negative stress on other projects, family or personal life?
  • Should I be charging for this time? Is this a moment you can afford to do “a little extra” to build on your business relationship (since you think it will likely lead to more work/lengthening your relationship) by solving an unexpected crisis for the client- or are they milking your contract since you’re already there?
    If you feel the client has purposely not contracted someone to fill a slot hoping they could convince someone else to cover it by putting them on the spot… you may want to offer them a rate/quote to extend your contract to cover those services. If they legitimately had an unexpected problem arise, being a ‘Team Player’ can really show you’re invested in their success (not just getting paid) and strengthen your relationship.
  • Is this business building? We will look this more in a later blog but anytime a client asks you for free work, you will need to determine as the business operator if this has a high probability of leading to paid work in the long term. Or if the client is merely in an impossible spot of having to find businesses to offer services for free since they don’t have a budget to pay for them (not an easy position to be in)…

5. “This Job Would Be Great if it Wasn’t for the Customers…”
You may have muttered this under your breath (or at least secretly thought it in the back of your mind) while another rude customer chooses you to set an example for service staff everywhere.

But – from a business perspective – we need to look beyond challenging customers to remember that the success of your business relies on having those customers. They are imperative to your revenue generation (whether as a supplier or consumer focused business) and can actually be one of the greatest parts of the job if you foster healthy working relationships! A respect & appreciation for them in required; after all, you’re there for them!

Does that mean it’s alright for a customer to berate you? No.

Does that mean it’s alright for a client to deceive you? No.

Does that mean that we have to like every one of your customers or ensure they like you back?

… Of course not.But you do need them!

It’s helpful to direct focus for your brand (click back to the introduction for a link to “The Unpopular Brand”… HIGHLY recommend you read this book!). We will also look at how to handle client conflicts in a later post!

6. Don’t Bombard your Client with EVERYTHING!
Does the Client need this information in order to fulfill their task or help you to fulfill yours? Is this helpful for them? Or are you simply occupying their time to show your work?

Use your experience to sift out what information will help the client in making decisions and keep them ‘in the loop’ that a project is moving toward deadlines. But some internal processes may not be of interest to them.

7. Stepping on Toes
It’s going to happen. A client will say something which strikes your nerve. “Don’t they know how hard I’m working for them? Don’t they respect what we do? I really want to set them straight!”

Is the only outcome of saying what you’re thinking to make you feel better? Then it’s probably not going to be helpful from a business perspective…

Emotions are imperative to driving you in business. But your customers (or unloading on your staff) may not always be the most helpful to anyone except you.

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Stay tuned for the next instalment!


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