Customer Service

Countering customers who travel a one-way street

By Mark Lusky | January 24, 2014

Some customers want it all their way, right away, all the time. They keep pushing until someone pushes back.

You need to be that someone. While accommodating legitimate needs should be priority one, there are limits. When they are reached, it’s time to lay down the law.

Of course, this is tricky. Demanding customers typically bristle – and often threaten to move their business elsewhere – when challenged. However, it’s important to develop and maintain relationships that are truly give-and-take. Here are some issues to address around this important concept:

1. Charging up customer service morale. Your customer service people need to see that you have a backbone, and will defend them against abuse and overly demanding customers. So, it really becomes a matter of workforce morale.

How can you expect your customer support staff to continue going to bat for you if you won’t go to bat for them? Particularly when it comes to rude, abusive or threatening customer comments or behaviors, it’s critical to backstop your people.

This doesn’t mean defending them blindly or without the facts of the case. Always make sure the customer understands that your ultimate objective is to resolve issues in the fairest way possible. Typically, any customer worth keeping will recognize and honor a good-faith attempt to solve problems in a win-win fashion. Those who don’t are not worth keeping in many situations.

2. Creating the most productive marketplace reputation. Companies that over-accommodate bad customer behavior become known for this in the marketplace. In turn, this tends to attract more poorly behaved customers who see an unfettered opportunity to have it their way. Unless you want to kowtow to this population, establish a reputation for fairness seasoned with toughness. That reputation will draw customers who, in the long run, will exhibit greater loyalty.

3. Clarifying rules of the road early on. Not to make too direct a connection, but customers can be like little kids. Train them well early on, and they’ll exhibit good manners later. Let them run roughshod from the beginning, and the consequences can be disconcerting. One tool to help do this is to communicate expectations that both parties should have from the outset.

Customers need to know what to expect from you, and understand what expectations you have of them. Make sure to reinforce the message early and often – in one-on-one discussions, on your website, as “teaching tools” along the way where necessary.

This doesn’t need to be complicated or convoluted. Just make sure to simply state your commitment to customers in writing and/or verbally, and what you want in return. These rules of engagement also can serve to weed out some one-way street types who are unwilling to work with a company if everything isn’t on their terms. While most of us are scrambling for new revenue sources, do you really want to put up with customers who behave very badly?

4. Being proactive in dealing with disgruntled customer fallout. Given the ease of posting online reviews, stay vigilant about monitoring your online reputation. Three primary ways of addressing negative or questionable reviews are to create an “umbrella story” to explain your overall rankings; approaching the negative reviewer to see what, if anything, can be done to rectify the situation; and encouraging your raving fans to further spread the word.

The umbrella story simply mandates an explanation on your website and other customer-facing sites about your reviews and reputation. Without being defensive, this can help educate the marketplace about what the reviews mean to your overall reputation.
For example, it can be wise to suggest throwing out the best and worst rankings and seeing what shows up in the middle ground.

Of course, if your overall score calculated from a sizeable number of people is low, you’ve got some fence-mending to do.

That’s where you may, in select situations, attempt to repair damage done by seeing if there is ground for “reconciliation.” By the time you see the negative review from a disgruntled customer, there may have been a cooling off period. The customer may be willing to discuss the situation. And, there may be room for resolution. If not, take the high road and move on, graciously.

Finally, call in the reserves when needed to bulk up your overall score. Make this a transparent request along the lines of, “If you like us, let the world know.” Otherwise, it may appear that you’re “salting” the reviews, which, if discovered, can breed further mistrust and suspicion.

In the final analysis, customer service is like walking on a tightrope. Just maintain your balance and equilibrium. Don’t go out of your way to blow up business relationships or maintain them when the cost gets too high.  lnw

Tammie MacLachlan contributed to this report.

Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels since 2008. Tammie MacLachlan is the customer service manager of Lightning Labels, an all-digital custom label printer in Denver, CO, USA. She has been in the printing industry for 19 years and with Lightning Labels for more than seven years. Find Lightning Labels on Facebook for special offers and label printing news.