I’ve been told that every business has to work with “Difficult Customers.”  And, we all have to work with “Difficult People.”  Well, I don’t buy it.

What happened to the rest of us nice, reasonable people that allowed those jerks to rule us?!

There is a multi-million dollar training industry built around the assumption that we all have to work with difficult people.  But here are two big reasons why no one should work with difficult customers.

  1. Difficult customers want what your business system isn’t designed to deliver. For example; I worked for a manufacturer who called some of the biggest medical device, appliance and automotive companies their customers.  But these companies had specialized systems that required literally hundreds of man-hours of maintenance on our part so that we can fulfill THEIR quality systems’ requirements – in addition to our own.   So we had two kinds of customers; high-maintenance (the big guys) and low-maintenance (the little guys).  We literally made twice the margin on our smaller customers than we did on the big ones.  They loved us, we loved them and doing what they hired us to do was fast and easy; hence profitable.
  2. Difficult customers have no idea why they should work with you instead of a competitor. Do you have customers that charge their customers a lot, but expect you to do more work for less or customers that are constantly complaining about your prices?  This should tell you that your customer understands why customers choose them – but they know that you don’t understand what value you provide – and so they take advantage.  Chances are that your best customers KNOW why they choose to work with you, but you don’t.  If you like these people and want to keep working with them, be clear about what sets you apart and the value you offer and charge accordingly.  If they are disrespectful and mean, get rid of them.  It’s bad enough that you’re losing money; you shouldn’t have to be abused in the process.

You can see how you’re literally hemorrhaging profits in each of these situations.  If your customer requires specific processes and systems to meet their customers’ requirements and that would require that you either work 24/7, hire more people, or force the people that you have to jump through hoops at a moment’s notice – this is costing you money!  It may not show up as a line item, but when you have people leaving their desks in search of specific  papers, or creating reports that weren’t expected, or sitting in meetings resolving problems you didn’t anticipate, these are all unnecessary and hidden costs that are eroding your margins and driving your employees insane.

In the second case, you’re dealing with a situation of corporate low self-esteem.   You may have been so eager to put their name on your customer list, that you allowed your true value and profits to erode.  You may be living in fear that you will lose them.  But if you realize that this mean, the unappreciative customer is literally taking up space that a wonderful, appreciative, loyal and profitable customer could be taking – you may see things differently.

Small Business Owners of the world – vow to work with customers who love and appreciate the value you bring and watch you profits go up!

About the Author: Ivana Taylor is CEO of Third Force, a strategic firm that helps small businesses get and keep their ideal customer. She’s the co-author of the book “Excel for Marketing Managers” and proprietor of DIYMarketers, a site for in-house marketers. Her blog is Strategy Stew.   You can reach her directly at Ivana@thirdforce.net.