Updated: Oct 26
No matter where you work, you have knowledge, skills, equipment or contacts that will be needed from time to time by your friends and family. Many people just starting out in their careers will call up friends and family to be their clients. When you are new and have no business, anything is better than nothing.
Many businesses owe their early survival to the patronage received from acquaintances. But, inevitably, someone close to them will expect free or almost free products or services and when you help them out as cheaply as possible, it’s still not enough to make them happy.
Over time, you learn what you are good at and who you should be doing business with. Almost without fail, new businesses try to be all things to all people. This is part of the learning process that directs new businesses towards their strengths and helps them uncover the most profitable areas of an industry.
During these early years, businesses will also experience a disproportionate amount of the dreaded “customer from hell”. This phenomenon is one of the reasons for the high failure rate of new enterprises. However these bad experiences are almost always the fault of the business.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of crazy people out there, I am related to a few of them. However when I look back on most of the ones I have had, I find that myself or someone that works for me dropped the ball. Most of the time it’s a lack of communication on both ends but the professional has to take responsibility. Usually it was me promising something I thought I could provide, but could not. Often this was because my people claimed to be able to do things they couldn’t.
So the customer has an expectation in their head of what they are buying based on communication they had with you. Did you ask enough questions to really understand what they want? Once you stop asking questions, the customer will assume that you, the professional, know exactly what they want.
If they think they are getting a five star resort but you sold them a three star because that’s what you thought they wanted when they said “great deal”, they are going to feel cheated even though you meant well. It is likely my most important responsibility to determine the level of perfection a customer expects. If you mess that up then the whole relationship will be rocky at best.
With that being said, whenever a customer comes to you and proceeds to complain about every experience they have ever had with people in your industry, politely recommend they go to your competition. Not everyone in your industry can be incompetent. This is a good sign that this person may be one of the “customers from hell”.
Some people will search out the lowest price and still expect the highest quality. When you are the unsuspecting sap that agrees to work for nothing, you may think this customer does not expect much for the little money you are charging. Watch out! If you didn’t ask whether they were looking for perfection, then only you are to blame.
If you look around at service businesses in your area, you will see that the long term successful ones don’t mess around trying to attract the cheapest customers. They perfected their skills and only offer one level of service: the best. And they charge for it. Customers who won’t pay for the best can go to their competition and take their chances. Which kind of customer are you?