This is always a big question. And it’s a good one. But also a difficult one. Maybe it’s surprising to you, but I say, not completely. The customer is always right, until they’re not. As you know, I believe that given the chance most people will do the right thing. If they feel heard, respected, and well cared for, most people will give that back to you. However, there are those few that will stop at nothing to get what they want. And for those people, you’re better off without them.
Customer experience isn’t about your business going bankrupt over trying to fix a table scratched upon delivery. Not at all. Customer experience is about putting the customer’s best interests at the center of your business, and both indirectly and directly, your business benefiting from your customer’s consequent happiness. It’s about going above and beyond in whatever means possible, but it doesn’t mean that you should have to answer phone calls at 1 pm on a Sunday afternoon. Or worse yet, 1 am. Customers should respect you, your life, and your business, just as you respect theirs.
So, how do you provide a squishy gushy customer exprience while also gaining respect? Number one, set expectations. Let your customers know from the very beginning how you work, without saying, “These are my rules. Follow them or else your orders may suddenly be backordered for a very, very long time.” At your initial meeting, let them know the best way to get in touch with you, your office hours, and your typical response time. They feel comfort in the fact that they know what to expect from you, as long as you strictly stick to that schedule.
If you say your office hours are 9-5 and they email you at 7 pm and you happen to still be at the office, don’t respond until the next morning. A quick response is important, but unless you want to get into a pattern where you are responding at all hours of the night, stick to your stated office hours. And if you don’t want customers texting you, don’t give them your cell phone number. Convenience is important for customers, but if it drives you absolutely insane to be texted all the time by 5 different customers, just tell customers your assistant is happy to take down any questions or concerns you have because you’re just terrible at texting and don’t want to miss what they may tell you. Large corporations have the capability of being available 24/7 by email, chat, phone, etc. but you don’t. And that’s ok.
And what about those truly extreme customers who stop at nothing to get what they want? Those people who are just downright ridiculous? Gently and genuinely lead them to another option, and let them know how it’s in their best interest. To protect another designer from their wrath, I wouldn’t recommend a specific designer. But, if all they want to do is shop you and that’s not how your business works, then provide a source where they can buy to the trade items. If all they want to do is question every choice you make, then provide them with a few e-design sources. If all they want to do is fight each and every cost you give them no matter your explanations of the time involved, quality involved, etc., in a project, let them know that there are certainly other less expensive designers or even diy if they would prefer that as an option.
It should sound something like this, “I know you’ve been unhappy with the options I brought you (or whatever they’re unhappy with) and I really really want you to get what you want out of this project. Having a beautiful home really is so important. And you have so many ideas on how you’d love to decorate your home (or whatever they’re pushing back on). So, I’m wondering if maybe you’d like to actually work with an e-designer? I think you’d really have a lot of fun and you could save a lot on the designer fee. They give you gorgeous suggestions, but the project is totally in your hands. The time, budget, and final decision are all yours. Here’s a list of some of the best. What do you think? ” Now, if there’s pushback after this you may have to get a little bit more bold. But, a lot of time people will appreciate the fact that you’re keeping their best interest at heart, which you are. If you genuinely think you just can’t give a client what they want, it’s better for all parties to split.
Really, just be reasonable and do the best you can for all of your customers. When there’s a problem, fix it quickly, completely, and apologize. Even better, try to fix it before they even know about it. When they’re unhappy about a price, or a timeline, do your best to explain why it’s that way. When there’s a setback, side with them and share in their irritation and then comfort them by assuring them it will be taken care of. But if after all of this, someone still isn’t reasonable, go ahead and tell them (as indirectly as you can muster), “You’ll rue the day you furrowed my brow! And go ahead, have your Aunt Mildred sew all the polyester curtains your heart desires! See if I care! I’m out!”
Let me know in the comments below how you’ve handled impossible customers in the past!