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Manufacturer’s Guide to Dealing With Difficult People: 4 Steps to Better Customer Relationships

difficult customers blog

Here’s a Potentially Dangerous Question: Do You Even LIKE Your Customers??

Demanding, Unreasonable & Unappreciative – does that describe any of your Customers?

Unfortunately, like most business owners, you may find that your Customers are among the most challenging aspects of running your business.

“Business would be much easier if it weren’t for those pesky Customers!”

– Every Business Owner Ever

Obviously, having a business without any customers is a bit absurd. It’s often been said that business doesn’t start until you make a sale to a Customer.

However you got into your manufacturing business, you naturally think of your product and service as something you offer to the marketplace and you get excited when someone wants to buy from you. Especially early on in your business journey, it’s easy to believe the myth that you should never say “No” to a Customer because you need to take all the business you can get.

PITA Customers and What to Do About Them

Over time, as your business becomes more stable, you may start to realize that you can be more selective in who allow to purchase from you.

A number of years ago, I was made aware of this point and took some time to evaluate our Customer base.  Whenever we weren’t extremely busy and needed more work, we’d take on projects from just about anyone.

Unfortunately, that occasionally led to getting a Customer that was a PITA….a Pain in the A**.

I expect you’ve dealt with PITAs in your business life and it’s not enjoyable. There are a wide variety of them out there and here are a few signs that may be familiar…

Hopefully you didn’t get PTSD from reading that list. For most business owners and customer service reps, it’s not hard to remember when a Customer treated you in one of those ways.

The next question is, what did you do about it? Too often, you keep serving them and hoping they’ll get better.

The bigger part of your Sales they take up = the less leverage you feel like you have.

So, what should you do?

4 Steps to Dealing With Difficult Customers

Here are four steps you can use to deal with the PITA Customers in your business:

  1. Put the situation in perspective. Recognize them for what they are and don’t hope against hope that you’ll be able to change them. Just acknowledging they are a PITA will help your emotional state. Certainly, you will look to grow as quickly as possible to a point where you don’t feel you “need” them as a Customer.  You definitely shouldn’t be looking to take on additional new projects or business from them. PITAs should not be on your list of Growth Customers or they’ll ultimately drain you and your business of your energy and emotional reserves.

  2. Establish Clear Boundaries. If you choose to continue to do business with them, you can at least put more specific controls in place to protect yourself, and your Team, from their behavior. You need to establish very clear boundaries of how you’ll interact with them, the type of project you’ll accept from them and how you’ll get paid by them. Once the new boundaries are in place (and the Customer doesn’t necessarily need to know that you’ve changed anything!) you’ll drive them in a direction that is better for you and your business. For example, here are some criteria you might set:
    1. You’ll know that no matter what, your initial quote is also your final quote.
    2. You’ll only accept an order with a 30% deposit.
    3. You’ll only respond to their emails & calls during working hours.

      With these new boundaries in place, you’ll get your sanity back and one of two things will happen…..they’ll either become easier to tolerate, or they’ll leave. Either way, you’re going to come out ahead.

  3. Have a Serious Sit-Down to Review the Situation. Sometimes, a PITA doesn’t appreciate how they are making your life miserable. Too often, they just push on their vendors because they are big, or busy, and nobody calls them on it. Standing up for your business and your Team can be an important opportunity to establish clear communication and set proper expectations. Make it clear that you’re open to growing with them, but only if they change their behavior. If you go into these sessions with two commitments, you’ll have a great chance to improve the situation:
    • Commitment 1 – You’ll only decide to continue the relationship based on their response to the conversation. If you stay open to how they can solve the problem, you’ll be in a mode to work together.
    • Commitment 2 – You are willing to change or add behaviors on your side to help build a good relationship. Don’t assume that they are fully to blame for the strained relationship, you and your Team have a part to play and there is always room for improvement.

  4. Fire them as a Customer. It’s not easy, but there are definitely times when this is the best course of action. You want to part company as agreeably as possible and make sure you know your potential downside risk. Put together a plan that will work for you and won’t put them in a short-term bad spot. You identify the stopping point and how you see it playing out. You may agree to serve them for a short period of time at a higher price, but each situation is different. You need to be prepared that they may walk away and cut off ties immediately, so you need to take that into account. Little doubt that you’ll be better off in the long term, but the short term could be painful. The goal is to be more than fair to them, if possible, and don’t give them any grounds to suggest that you didn’t do your best to help them make the transition.  Suggesting that the relationship is “No longer a good fit” is likely both true and easier for them to accept.

Business is challenging when you’re serving Customers that you like. It can be downright exhausting when your regularly dealing with PITAs! Hopefully these four steps offer you and your Team a path forward.

Bowden Customers: Proof That Being Selective Pays Off!

At Bowden, we truly like our Customers. They appreciate us and we’re excited to provide them the next best thing to having their own in-house CNC machine shop!

How have we gone from PITAs to Customers we truly enjoy? We regularly evaluate our Customers to check to see if they are still a good fit for us. Our Team reviews many aspects of our Customer Relationships, including:

  • Communications
  • Product Fit
  • Sales Volume
  • Market
  • Growth Potential

Take the time to evaluate your Customer list. Establish an early review of any of your new Customers. It’s easier to adjust early on in the relationship. It’s easy to ignore PITA tendencies when they are a small Customer, but it typically only gets worse for you as they grow in volume.

You’ll likely always have favorite Customers, but make sure you set a PITA threshold. Life is too short to spend it frustrated and unappreciated by your Customers.

When you like your Customers, the challenge is worth it, knowing that you’re helping folks that appreciate it as you do good business with them.