Customer Service vs. Customer Abuse


One of the tenets of a successful business is outstanding customer service. Whether you’re Stew Leonard’s (the customer’s always right, when in doubt, the customer’s always right), Amazon (obsess over customers), or Warby Paker (complete customer-focused experience), providing excellent customer service is a critical component of overall success.


The customer’s always right – to a point. A client of mine has a customer that is never satisfied with her work. No matter what the client tries to do to right her perceived mistakes, the client finds some reason to blame her. Being a Solopreneur, she’s reluctant to let the customer know at the risk of losing the customer altogether.


At what point is it okay to tell the customer they should conduct their business elsewhere? As small business owners, we are constantly looking for new customers and balancing the delicate dance of expenses and profits. The loss of a single client can really impact our business. Yet, when you allow yourself (or your employees) to be treated poorly by customers, you devalue your business.


If a customer knows they can bully you, they will ultimately ask for discounts and possibly even stop paying you through no fault of yours or your company. You also run the risk of negative reviews and social media following an unpleasant break up with a client.


What can you do to maintain your high standards of service and mitigate customer abuse?


1. Look at the situation through the customer’s eyes first. Perhaps she’s been having some personal issues that are weighing heavily on her, or she’s answering to an abusive boss.


On a recent visit to Starbucks, the server behind the counter was texting while the line was growing. Growing frustrated, I commented on how I’d never seen a Starbucks employee texting on the job. Her response was curt and unpleasant even though there was a business reason for her texting. She later explained that an employee had called in sick with symptoms of Covid-10 and had put the entire staff at risk. Had she simply looked up and explained herself for a minute, I would’ve waited patiently, no drama necessary. Instead, I felt ignored.


2. Offer to right the wrong by asking her what you can do differently rather than telling her how you will fix it. I hate it when a restaurant sends me champagne as an apology (call me crazy I just don’t like the bubbles). I’d rather the server ask me what would make the situation better and look for a reasonable solution.

3. If you’ve made a mistake, own up to it, don’t make excuses for it. We’re all fallible. Everyone has made a serious mistake in business (accidentally reply all anyone?). Whatever the reason, as a customer, I don’t really care. I may be curious, but the excuse isn’t going to make it better. Offer an apology and a remedy.


4. Don’t let it lie. Even if you’ve fixed the problem to the customer’s satisfaction, check-in a day or two later and make sure the customer is happy with the solution. Even if they choose not to do business with you in the future, they’re less likely to take any negative action like writing a bad review.


5. If you can’t please your customer no matter how hard you try, offer a refund and walk away. When I had my divorce business, my clients were almost always emotionally overwhelmed. I took their behavior with a grain of salt, having intimate knowledge of their struggles. On one occasion, a client who was unhappy with my performance sent a scathing email to the woman who had referred her to me. The exchange caused a rift between me and a good referral source causing her to now doubt my ability.


I was concerned that she would start peppering social media with negative reviews yet, I no longer wanted her business. I had done hours of work and was due what she had paid. As much as it pained me, I returned her money and suggested I wasn’t the right person for the job.


You can’t please everyone all the time, at the same time, however, you deserve to be respected in exchange for good work.




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