Are YOU a Bad Customer?

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It’s no surprise that as part of our human condition, we either do not see or rationalize our own bad behavior towards others. We will not take the extra twenty seconds to back up and park correctly at the mall or supermarket, instead of exiting our vehicles that lay across two parking spaces. We sit on our cell phones, expecting others to wait behind us in line as we increase our time at the checkout by three-hundred percent and treat those in the service industry as if they were created by God somewhere between the weasel and rat, which is usually a spot reserved for lawyers and politicians. In the end, we are responsible for our own actions and if they are anti-social, we cannot truly hold our heads high as we help chip away at society, business and our own reputations among our peers.

While the U.S. Presidential election is a short two weeks away, we have witnessed lying, false accusations, shifting stances on policy and politics and flip-flopping with fact and creative fiction. I leave it to you to decide whom, if not both candidates have engaged in this behavior. As with most elections, people will say they voted for the least, biggest liar. Will the American public feel good about the winner? Will they feel engagement or loyalty or will they feel that they can also stoop to the lowest as their right by example?

Would You Like to Upsize That?

In an example of a shared experience for over ninety percent of the people in industrialized countries, the fast food industry is a prime example of bad customers. Most people will disagree, thinking the morons at the drive thru are those in silly uniforms but it’s not true.

Like George Plimpton and Hunter S. Thompson, as well as countless writers, I jumped at the chance to work part-time for a local fast food joint when a friend, whose stories of bad customers intrigued me asked if I wanted to work with him. I figured a few weeks of the experience would give me enough material for a book and I agreed. On my first day, I slipped into my brightly colored, plastic shirt, ball cap, falsified nametag and stood behind the shift manager, learning the POS (point of sale) register. It wasn’t hard to figure out. Here’s a heart-chocking burger that corresponds to a number on the menu board. Then there are second level buttons for leaving off items such as pickles, lettuce or adding other items such as bacon for that extra UMPH! of stroke-causing goodness.

It didn’t take long for me to wonder how many people were unable to order a simple meal by a number. While waiting for the customer to decide on a number one through number eight, all laid out with large pictures, showing the product like pictures in a child’s board book, I would be appalled that these people were allowed to drive up to the restaurant. The real test came when the ubiquitous question was put forth for an answer; “would you like to upsize that to medium or large?”

Often, rather more often then should happen, people would answer, “yes!”

That begged the follow up question, “to medium or large?”

The number of people who decided, after they had paid, that they would actually like to upsize their crappy meal, was amazing. This meant returning their money and starting over or just giving them the upsize and taking the business loss due to their stupidity. In either case, it is the person behind them that ends up waiting or facing the contempt from the counter person.

“Do you take credit cards?” Photo © Stephen Cox

During “My Year in Grease,” as the books title goes, although I didn’t spend a year there as my penchant for murdering customers grew with each shift, there were further examples of bad customers that would shock anyone. There is a good lesson about being a bad customer in any type of restaurant that is punctuated by Ryan Reynolds in the film “Waiting,” about a small chain restaurant. The bad customer sends back her food after an abusive rant and what she gets back is something you would not want to eat, or be within ten feet. Mr Reynolds tells a young trainee, “never f@#% with people who handle your food!”

This certainly sends a message… that the innocent bus boy will have to clean up.

Being Bad to Vendors

It goes without saying that there are bad vendors but that’s another article. Bad clients/customers are equally as bad and no, the client is NOT always right. The professional way of doing business is always right. Contracts certainly should keep all parties on board and at least a bit of compassion and understanding makes for a sweeter experience but, like the inability to order lunch, there are people who can’t seem to generate the wattage needed to fire certain brain synapses.

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Sites like clientsfromhell.net, take collections of real-life experiences that shock the normal brain when trying to understand the brain from, as it goes in Young Frankenstein, “Abby Normal.”

Read examples until you get too depressed!

One wonderful example from the site is the post:

CLIENT: We have decided we want to call our new website ‘_________.com’

ME: Unfortunately, the .com is already registered and in use. However, .net is available. That’s probably the best option unless you choose another name.

CLIENT: Ah. Yeah, I don’t like the .net so much. I think I’ll just stick with the .com

ME: Sorry, I think you must have misunderstood, the .com is already owned by someone else. You need to pick another name.

CLIENT: Thanks for the advice, we’ve decided we don’t like the .net so we’ll just go for the .com as originally planned. If you can register that for us ASAP and let us know once it’s done that’d be great.

“Would you like to upsize that site to medium or large?” See how that example works across several industries?

Another example shows immediate contempt of any vendor:

After refusing to pay, then claiming we said we would eat the cost of the project, and then accusing of us of verbally abusing staff when we very politely asked their accountant to pay the outstanding invoice…

CLIENT: It’s too bad, we were thinking of making you a preferred vendor.

ME: What does that mean?

CLIENT: It means we pay on time.

A very popular video with graphic designers and other freelance creatives is the following skit…

Getting REALLY Mean!

In a recent Business Week article by Karen E. Klein, “Because the Customer Is NOT Always Right!” Ms, Klein reports:

Restaurant-goers can Yelp about high prices and bad service; homeowners can carp about shoddy contractors on Angie’s List; ripped-off customers can tattle to the Better Business Bureau.

Now small business owners have a place to share opinions of their own: BadConsumers.com. The site’s tagline: “Because the customer is NOT always right!”

“Everything’s geared for the consumers and their protection. What about us?” asks Peter Robideau, 48, the site’s founder and owner of TeleTechie, a Malverne (N.Y.) technology support company that employs eight and brings in about $1 million annually. Robideau, a database programmer who started the company in 2004, has long traded gripes with fellow entrepreneurs about customers who haggle on prices after agreeing to them, stop payment on valid invoices, or don’t ever pay.

If you ask any vendor, the number one complaint is non-payment or haggling the price after goods or services are delivered. Ms. Klein’s article continues with the following lovely information:

So the contractor who told Robideau that a customer paid $14,500 of an agreed-upon $15,000 bathroom remodel, “because Oprah said never to pay a contractor the full amount,” is out of luck—and his anticipated profit margin—unless he goes through the time-consuming, costly process of taking her to small claims court or putting a lien on her property.

The opinion is, there will be plenty of lawsuits upon this site.

I can’t say whether or not Oprah ever said that but if someone worth $2.7 billion (according to therichest.org), were to short contractors, who must pay for materials and workers, then she would be creating more monstrous princesses then the old Disney films.

Creative organizations have long worked to tackle the question of what to do with clients who won’t pay or attempt to renegotiate fees after the fact. While it’s reported that reasons for non-payment include:

  1. My site didn’t pull in enough views the first week.
  2. I wasn’t happy with the colors after I had a chance to think about it.
  3. I saw an ad for a company that designs web sites for $200.
  4. We changed our budget for this project.

Of course, once contracted, none of these reasons are valid and, at least in my experience, won’t hold up in court. Often a customer hopes the time and trouble of small claims or civil court for higher amounts, isn’t going to be worth it to the vendor. Even when a judgment is ordered against the customer, collection is another story. The judgment is the court order but enforcing it is the trick. There are avenues for doing so, such as repossession but in certain cases, there is nothing that can be repossessed.

Other Costs of Bad Customers

In a case or a web site designer in India, who was not paid for an eCommerce site he designed and coded, when he pulled down the site for non-payment, the company sued HIM for the lost revenue while the site was down and won a judgment.

It’s highly suggested that non-payment on contracted terms be dealt with swiftly by trying to find out exactly why the customer hasn’t paid. There may be a very good reason and, in the current economy, it could be they just don’t have the funds to pay the entire bill. It’s better to work out a payment plan than it is to let hostilities grow. If the reason is just that the client is being cheap and tricky, then it’s better to turn it all over to a collection company (your contract should list terms that include the fee for collections and court costs). Having a collection on a small company’s credit report can really hurt when it’s time to grow or purchase new equipment. If the debt is termed a loss, at least going to collections can give you a tax deduction, more so then a court judgment.

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There are other costs a bad customer can incur. In a Forbes’ article, “Dealing With Bad Customers,” author Tom Taulli relates:

After her client brought a different woman to every appointment to look at vacation homes in the Hamptons, a light went off for Diane Saatchi. “After about six different women, it was clear that he was using house hunting as a way to impress the women,” said Saatchi, a senior vice president with The Corcoran Group. “He had no intention buying.”

She quickly dropped the client.

But aren’t “customers always right”? Maybe so, but just because they’re right doesn’t mean there aren’t bad ones that drain resources. They also have an opportunity cost. That is, a business has less time to focus on top customers. Bad customers often demoralize employees because of their complaints and excessive demands. Moreover, they are often the source of negative word-of-mouth.

The article continues with how to target bad customers:

Fred Reichheld, customer loyalty expert and author of The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth, says when companies disappoint their customers, they become detractors.

“Our research has shown that from 25% to 50% of customers are detractors at typical firms today. This enormous unmeasured liability is throttling corporate growth,” he said.

Reichheld considers the best way to determine the extent of this problem is to ask customers “the ultimate question”: On a scale from zero to ten, how likely would you be to recommend us to a friend?

Detractors score 0-6. “By identifying them, it is possible to probe for root causes and solutions,” said Reichheld. “When there is no economically rational solution, then the best alternative is to help those customers find a better supplier for their needs.”

Some will argue the importance of customers. Without customers, there is no income. A bad customer and bad vendor can often come down to customer service on the part of the vendor. Inclusion and transparency on the part of the vendor can ease the fears of customers that they will be somehow cheated. At the same time, during engaging customers, a vendor can spot trouble often before it happens and head it off. If, for example, a customer is dragging out a contracted project, keeping them apprised of mounting hourly costs can bring up red flags by how the customer reacts. The little things they say and, if in person, body language can be very telling. Move forward but watch for warning signs and address them as quickly as possible. How the client handles those negotiations are always telling of what the end results will be.

Respect is, of course, a two-way street. Both client/customer and vendor must se each other’s needs and capabilities. Asking for or demanding the impossible, from either side, leaves you with a situation such as this…

Top image ©GL Stock Images

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