“You’ll throw in the extras we talked about if you want my business.”
We were negotiating with a potential customer.
His pattern was the same. We’d negotiate the terms and send the agreement. Our customer would confirm that everything was fine.
Everything looked good.
Until we spotted all of the extras he added in without telling us. A new feature here, better payment terms there – He squeezed us anywhere and everywhere he could.
He was the customer from hell and we needed to keep him out.
But we couldn’t keep him out because we didn’t recognize him for what he was. In part 1, we talked about recognizing the customer from hell and why that’s important. In part 2, we talked about turning these nightmare customers into all-stars.
The real question though, is how we keep them out.
When it comes to keeping these customers out, you’ll need to cover specific areas. I’m sharing these tips with the assumption that you’re already in control of your environment. If you’re not in control, you can’t keep these customers out.
You need a system to keep them out.
One of our clients sold wheels and rims. They were a high-end manufacturer and their products were awesome. But they had no system in place for order confirmation, shipping or refunds. Customers found creative ways to take advantage of their business.
Customers would purchase their wheels, not realizing that it would take 12 weeks for our client to build, customize and ship their order. Once customers got frustrated they cancelled their orders.
At first, customers had no idea their order was on its way so they received a 12,000 dollar set of wheels for free. Word got around and customers started to take advantage.
It’s easy for businesses to ignore the systems and procedures they need. But good systems screen out bad customers. Systems close the loopholes and gotchas in your business. They help to eliminate loopholes.
But systems can’t fix the wrong tone.
Systems keep everything in line but they can’t control how customers see you. That’s where tone comes in. The wrong tone starts your customer relationship off on the wrong foot.
Let’s do a little tone comparison.
“Interested in working with me? I have 2 consulting slots left this month. I only take on 8 consulting projects each month. Here are the projects I accept.”
“I’m interested in working with you and I’d love to work on your project. Feel free to get in touch if you’re interested as well.”
Can you see the difference?
The first message tells customers you’re in demand. That you’re valuable. That you’re interviewing them just as much as they’re interviewing you (which you should be).
And the second message?
It sends a message of neediness or desperation. Communicating this way shows customers you’re a mark or a target. If the customer from hell is a shark, neediness is the blood, the attractor that draws them in.
Which means you’ll need boundaries as backup.
Customers are like kids. And what do kids do? They test boundaries. They whine. They demand refunds on old products and they throw tantrums to get their way. Often times, they don’t understand the wisdom behind your decisions so they question eeeevvverrrrrything.
As frustrating as this behavior can be, it’s actually normal.
Most of us want customers who trust us completely. We want them to feel safe with us; where they don’t feel the need to question each and every decision we make.
Your customers need to test your boundaries. They need to push the limits and see that things work out when they follow your lead.
Which means you’ll need to enforce your boundaries.
Once you have your rules and systems you’ll need to enforce them. Giving in to a customer tantrum won’t lead to the kind of trust you want. Caring for them, guiding them, protecting them – from themselves even – that’s how you build that kind of trust.
Does all of this work automatically?
It’s automatic but you’ll need the complete system in order for this to work for you. Why? This whole thing works in layers. It’s a lot harder to say No to a customer or enforce boundaries when you’re desperate for work.
You’ll need to be in control over yourself and your business before you set expectations for your customer.
So what do you need to do to keep it going?
Once you have everything in place it’s all about maintenance and improvement. Go through each of the areas we’ve covered in parts 1 and 2. You’ll want to make sure you’re still in control over the areas we’ve discussed.
If you notice behavior from customers you don’t like, the first thing you’ll need to do is ask questions. What’s going on? Why is this happening, what caused it, etc.
Customers aren’t naturally unreasonable.
They’re generally okay with following the rules. Bad behavior has a source or point of origin. It’s up to you to find it.
What if we lose all-star customers as well?
All-star customers want very different things from your nightmare customers.
If you’ve done this right, your system should attract all-star customers. Your system should be focused on giving customers as much incentive as possible to behave the way you need them to.
If your customer is an all-star it’s easy to sync your goals with theirs. They want to solve a pain or problem, and you want to solve it (because it leads to more good things).
And if this whole thing stops working?
Then it means something is off, you’ve lost control somewhere along the line.
If it stops working, you simply audit your system. Go through each of the areas we’ve covered and find the leak. Figure out how the leak started and then plug it.
Can’t we turn the bad customers we get into all-stars?
You can, but it’s much easier to attract all-stars from the start.
Converting the customer from hell makes sense when your business is already full of them. When they’ve already found their way in and you’re looking to minimize the damage. It’s something you do to keep the doors open and the business going.
Letting nightmare customers in, giving them an opportunity to do some damage with hopes you’ll be able to turn it around later – not a good plan.
Keep the customer from hell out of your business.
Keeping them out of your business requires a game plan. But that game plan won’t work unless you’re in control of yourself and your environment. Follow the steps we’ve shared and the customer from hell should be a distant memory.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned from a negative customer experience? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Andrew McDermott is the co-author of Hook:Why Websites Fail to Make Money and co-founder of HooktoWin.com. His Free 5 day mini course shows entrepreneurs how to fix website failure and attract customers automatically.
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