Think about the “best” customer of your business. Someone who patronizes your operation more than anyone else. What is the experience of having that customer? Could it be time to fire that customer? Does this sound crazy?
In more than one business that I’ve owned I’ve ultimately fired what some might describe as the best customer. This is usually an individual who does buy a lot of products or services from the operation. But, sometimes, this individual or organization isn’t really doing the business any favors and there are even examples where their departure can improve the business.
There are two specific examples I can cite and a lot of examples I can remember but the symptoms are exactly the same.
I’ve found that these “best customers” have a few things in common. They think they practically own the business, when they come around you have a horrible feeling of dread, they always make demands that cause you to not be able to service other customers and they are disruptive. If they refer other customers to you it’s generally people who are equally disruptive. Basically, if your ‘best customer’ makes it so you can’t service your other customers, it might be time for them to go.
When I had the events business in SoCal there was someone who booked a lot of events and always talked about giving lots of referrals. For every event they booked they talked about how much they were referring people.
The fact is, they did tell people to hire our company and I would get the calls. But I just couldn’t convert them into paying customers. Why? This customer booked a lot of off-peak last-minute events and then always, always demanded huge discounts. “It’s not a Saturday night in June.” For those that don’t know, Saturdays in June were the prime event times simply because that was when so many people were getting married and booking our services at full price.
But when these prospects would call they did want the prime dates but they wanted the same off-peak deals as this customer got. I could always tell - but you give [insertnamehere] such a great deal.
And, really, [insertnamehere] did get a great deal because he would say something like, “I have a press conference on Tuesday and $200. Interested? I refer a lot of people to you.”
Inevitably there would be difficult situations and load-ins or the people at the event had a very different idea of what the picture was than was presented. Often times, if we had a certain expectation of gear or audience we would bring what was needed to successfully do that job only to find that we were rushing back to the office to grab different gear.
The actual consequences of these events ranged from getting a speeding ticket to try to make the start time with the proper gear to people thinking we were less than competent including some that might have otherwise actually been good customers.
Anyhow, I finally fired that customer by saying we were keeping our prices and booking practices consistent for all customers including him. This included specific pricing, booking a certain number of days in advance and all details in writing to the agent and to the ultimate customer. His verbal “contracts” were a significant cause of many of the issues and he was not willing to budge on this.
This was true in the resort business as well. We had a guy who stayed quite a bit and also referred others. He and his referrals would always check in late at night but want a late check-out forcing me to either inconvenience the next guest or pay the staff overtime while they waited around for this guest to leave. To say they left their rooms a mess would be a significant understatement.
They were loud, disrespectful and disruptive. We had a rule of no more than two people per room per the fire marshal, but sometimes I’d see them with others in the room including kids which they would bring to breakfast.
Our resort catered to couples on romantic getaways, some of whom had gone to great lengths to arrange a special getaway without their children. When they saw this you could just see them seething because our rules were specific about maximum occupancy yet this person, well, “I send a lot of people to you - it’s okay, right?” No, the other guests are receiving less service than they paid the full price for, buddy.
Why do these bad customers always use the word, ‘buddy’?
Finally the fight in the parking lot cinched the deal and they were invited to never step foot on the property again.
Once again, business didn’t suffer at all and that horrible feeling of dread when they came around was gone. That same customer was seen several times down the street at a local pub screaming at the television because whatever sports team he was following wasn’t meeting his expectations. Meanwhile, I could just see the looks on other diners’ faces while this guy was disrupting the entire establishment.
I asked the owner about this once and the response was priceless. “Well, he’s our best customer.” Indeed.
Written by Anthony B. Barthel
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