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The Customer is Not Always Right...and Sometimes, Just Wrong for You!

If you've been following my blog for any amount of time, you know my philosophy about customers.You can't get them early enough, have enough of them, or love them enough once you get them.However, like many beliefs, there are exceptions. Sometimes, you have to "fire your customer."

The phrase "the customer is always right" was pioneered by a number retail merchants in the early twentieth century as both a way to increase customer service levels and a differentiator.But for entrepreneurs, always trying to "go the extra mile" to please a customer, there are customers who will take advantage.Sometimes, a customer just becomes wrong for the business and more trouble than they are worth.

Whether playing on the amount of business that comes from them (often a large % of the small business' overall revenue) or their size (huge company, compared to the entrepreneurial business) or their market position (one of the top 3 in the market), they demand services from the entrepreneurial business that are just way over and above what is even rational. They become something of a bully, often threatening to move their business to a competitor, knowing the kind of impact it will make on the small business. This creates issues throughout the organization as frustration and anger replace the desire to please the customer and the satisfaction gained from serving the customer well.

So what you do.?

Sometimes, you just have to "bite the bullet," and "fire your customer."But, of course, that's the last the resort.So here's some guidance on knowing whether you've got a situation where the customer, who might always be right, may just be wrong for you - at least, without some change in the relationship, and what to do about it. And occasionally, the answer is not always with the customer.Sometimes, you have to change the way you're doing business!

Is your relationship a two-way street or are you the only one with responsibilities?
All successful relationships, be they personal or professional, are "give and take," with as much balance between the giving and taking as possible. Some customers view the supplier relationship as one of "supplicant to the king," where the vendor is the only one with any responsibilities. This kind of relationship cannot survive, long-term. Often, when you're a young company, you'll do anything to get the business, but that can't define your relationship, forever.You, as a supplier have a responsibility to deliver the best possible product at the best possible price with the best possible service. But, customers have responsibilities as well. At minimum, they have to commit to whatever training is necessary, use the product the way it was intended and pay for it on the terms agreed. You have to hold them to their responsibilities.They will surely hold you to yours!

It's about respect and don't be afraid to "make it personal."
All successful relationships start with a strong mutual respect. While you may respect them as a mature business and a market leader, they have to respect you, at minimum, as a business, albeit smaller, just like them.But respect starts with understanding. They need to understand that you're just trying to "make a buck" like they are.While your problems are nowhere near what they face, they need to understand that you've put your own assets on the line because of how much you believe in your business. And don't be afraid to "make it personal."Take the key person at the customer to lunch and get to know them as much on a personal level as on a professional one.Have them get to know you and what you're trying to do with the business and what you've risked because of your passion for it. It should begin to put the relationship on a whole new footing.

Have you spoiled your customer?
Often, young companies in their zeal to win over customers, will agree to, virtually, anything a customer requests. Based on the two points I previously raised, that's not a good long-term way of operating.But some companies never get out of it.And, as with raising children, an inability to say "no" creates spoiled children, an inability to say "no" to customers creates spoiled customers. Time to look in the mirror on this one.Maybe you've created the monster who's making your collective business lives miserable in your company.Again, time to sit down with the customer and set some new rules of engagement.

Is this just the way they operate?
Whenever I've had a situation like this, where we were questioning whether all the business a customer was bringing us was worth the aggravation, the first thing I did was to talk to other suppliers in other product areas, also serving that customer.Trade shows are great places to do that.The whole idea is to see if this is just a unique situation to your business, or does this customer just operates this way?If what you find is that this is the way the customer treats every supplier (and believe me, there are many more than there should be), then you have a decision to make because it ain't going to get much better.You either have to learn to deal with it - or fire the customer.

Customers are the lifeblood of every business.Sometimes, the relationships hurt the business as much as help.Then it's time to see not only whether customer is right - but right for your business.And, occasionally, you have to "fire the customer" for the good of the business.

"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things.He's been there.May success be with you!

Have you ever had to "fire the customer?" Tell us about it in your comments.It will help other entrepreneurs!

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