“I’m so sick of people wasting my time. They ask for so many drafts, but then order nothing. I have a family too, and every night I lose time with them.”
“These customers are driving me nuts! I spend so long doing quotes, but then don’t get the work. If they only want the cheapest supplier, why don’t they just go to Kmart?”
Is it just me, or has there been an upsurge in whingers on Facebook posting complaints about their customers? I really cringe when I read these posts, especially when they’re on the poster’s business page. The whinger might think their rant is justified, but they’re not doing themselves any favours.
There’s strong encouragement these days to be your ‘authentic self’ in business, to share your story via social media. People want to do business with people, we’re told. So be yourself, not some perfected impersonal image.
This may be true, but when you whinge you cross a line from being ‘personal’ to ‘unprofessional’. Customers want to deal with someone who can solve a problem for them quickly, efficiently, and with minimum fuss. When you vent publicly, you don’t look like that kind of person. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the right and your customer is a genuine pain in the backside, some readers will be wondering, is it really all the customer’s fault? Or are you, the whinger, in some way to blame?
It’s probably more common to see rants in closed Facebook forums, where they often elicit sympathetic responses. But the people reading your posts are still your potential colleagues and customers (that’s why we’re there, right?). Even if you get a lot of ‘you’re so right, good for you!’ responses, I can guarantee you many people reading your post will be thinking that you’re behaving unprofessionally.
When you’re a whinger, you can easily give the impression that you’re unable to deal with the cut and thrust of business. And that when things go wrong you may turn (unfairly) on your customer.
It’s also possible you’ll create an enemy that happens to have more Facebook friends than you. Your little vent can escalate from a small annoyance to a major cyber-spat.
Now, I’ve been self-employed in a customer service industry for almost 15 years, and I completely understand the desire to have a good rant about customers that are driving you nuts. But I really think there are less damaging ways to deal with these situations than doing it online.
Here are some actions you can take that are far more productive than being a whinger.
1. Develop better policies and procedures
When we start out in business, we don’t always know how we want our processes to work. Difficult customers help clarify what you don’t want to happen. You can then figure out what you do want your customers to do, and put in place policies to encourage that behaviour.
For example – don’t want to waste your time endlessly quoting for people who are just shopping around? Then firm up your prices and put them on your website. If you’re a service provider, consider creating a packaged offering with a fixed price, or provide a price range. Consider charging the customer to provide more detailed quotes.
Or if you are feeling resentful when a customer asks for endless re-drafts, clarify how many iterations will be included in your price, and start charging thereafter.
And so on.
2. Clearly communicate your policies
Clearly communicate your terms at every opportunity – on an FAQs page; attached to every contract; in your answer to an email enquiry, etc. Tell the customer what you want them to do. If you aren’t crystal clear on what your process is, you can’t blame a customer for having different expectations to you.
When things go wrong, refer back to the policies you’ve already communicated. You will feel better able to stand your ground and work towards the resolution that you want. Which means less frustration and less desire to rant in public places.
3. If you genuinely want advice
Sometimes you’ll want to share an issue in a public forum in order to ask for advice. I think this is much better the subject of a private conversation with a mentor, but if you must ask publicly, do it in a neutral tone, presenting facts, recognising that this is your view, and not making inferences about the other party’s intentions. And think first … are you really asking for advice, or are you just needing someone to tell you you’re right? Because if it’s the latter, you may not get what you came for.
4. Take arguments offline
If you get yourself into a slanging match online, shift the conversation offline. Contact the other party privately, then publicly announce that you will be resolving this issue offline. Show that you are concerned enough to want this dealt with, but will be doing so privately.
5. Practice empathy
Yes, customers can be really annoying. But they may be having a bad day, be super-stressed or utterly confused as to how to deal with their problem. I’ll bet that, without intending to, you’ve been that pain-in-the-butt customer for other service providers, too. I sure have.
The service provider who patiently but firmly guides the annoying customer through the process without making them feel like an idiot is going to earn their gratitude. And that annoying customer may just become their most vocal supporter.