Q: We have a few verbally abusive customers who regularly come in and intimidate our employees. They are larger accounts, so we really don’t want to lose their business. How do we handle this?
A: Unfortunately, “the customer is always right” doesn’t also mean “the customer is also civilized.” Dealing with poor manners is unfortunately a necessity when dealing with the general public. However, there is a certain level of decorum that you should expect from people, especially when they are your best customers.
As a leader, it is important to identify who your best customers are, and ensure that they stay as your best customers. However, it is also important to set expectations with people of what they should do when they enter your workplace. Identify exactly how they are behaving and to who, and work with both your staff and the customer on how to diffuse the situation.
Sometimes, though rarely, it may be time to “fire the customer”. I have had to do this maybe 3 or 4 times at most in my career, and usually it is because the customers expectations of what I can do and what I offer are completely misaligned. In one recent case, I refunded a customer the entire amount they paid me and suggested a new solution provider, because they were asking me to do more than I was capable of doing and what they were asking for was going to be impossible for me to make work. In the end, it probably was best to sever the working arrangement.