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Thankfully, unreasonable or toxic customers are rare in my experience. But since I've been in business 25 years, worked with hundreds of companies and thousands of people, running into some of these people is inevitable. Here are a few examples of unreasonable customers from my business career. Once I was making an appointment to visit a client at their office. The woman on the other end of the phone asked what time I was coming over. I said I couldn't give her a specific time since I was coming directly from another appointment, and wasn't sure how long that appointment would be. I said it would be in the mid-afternoon. She pushed me for a specific time. I repeated I couldn't give her one. Again she pushed. Finally in exasperation, I said, "I'm not sure. Maybe around 3:30." She said "Okay, 3:30." I said, "No, I said around 3:30, not 3:30. Again, I'm not sure exactly when I'll get there." She said, "Okay, no problem." The next day I showed up at 3:45 in the afternoon. As soon as I walked into the office, she was furious. She raised her voice, called me unprofessional, and that she couldn't believe I would be 15 minutes late like this. I reminded her of our conversation just 24 hours prior when I said it would be around 3:30, not 3:30 exactly, and she acted like I was trying to make excuses. For the rest of the visit she was extremely upset. I'm sure something else was going on in her life to cause her to act this way, but that's no excuse. I have bad days too, and I don't react to them by yelling at innocent people. I fired the account at the end of the week. Once, at 6am in the morning, I helped a client over the phone with a problem with their accounting system. Within 10 minutes we had the problem fixed. Later that day, that person's supervisor called me up and screamed at me over the phone. She said that her employee did something wrong when I talked to her, and how they were now having a different problem. The "customer is always right" of course, so I apologized and offered to help them fix the new problem at no charge. She interrupted me, raising her voice even louder, and screamed that I should have physically drove out to their office at 6am to fix the problem myself instead of walking one of their employees over the phone. When I said they probably didn't want to end up paying me over $100 for a physical visit when a quick phone call solved the 10-minute problem, she responded, and I quote, "You can't do that! Our employees are idiots! They don't know how to use computers and can't do anything right! Any time we ever have any problem regardless of how big or small, you need to get in your car, drive out here and FIX IT YOURSELF!" First of all, I'd rather not work with a company who views their own employees this way. Second of all, I don't like to be yelled at, especially when I'm trying to help someone. Third of all, this was a client that routinely would get upset when I sent them invoices to pay, even very small ones. And now they wanted me to drive out and charge them hundreds of dollars to fix quick, 10-minute problems? Only to get more complaining about my invoices? I had her transfer me to the president of the company, and gently fired the account. I could give you a few more examples like this but I think you get the point. You need to give yourself permission to fire unreasonable customers. People in my old-school business training always drilled into my head that the "customer is always right" and that one must bend over backwards to accommodate every customer no matter how abusive, unreasonable, or time-wasting. Yes, the customer is always right...as long as they're not wasting massive amounts of your time or introducing serious drama into your life. Then they need to go. Be nice of course, be professional, offer them some phone numbers of other people they can call to help them, but show them to the door. You don't need people like that in your business life. You can make money and accomplish your career goals without them.
This article was originally published on February 23, 2015