Is the customer always right?

The customer is always right. That doesn’t mean the customer is always reasonable or should be kept on the books no matter what.

Every printer would know about difficult customers. These are the ones who can be angry, rude, indecisive, impatient, intimidating, talkative and demanding. It is a challenge dealing with them but then, that’s what the owner of the printing business has to do.

The first thing that has to be done is to take on board their concerns. That requires skills around active listening. It means identifying what the customer is seeking and a commitment to ensuring that they have understood the entire situation.

In some customer situations, it may be appropriate and possible to negotiate an outcome that is agreeable to both parties. And there are cases where it might be necessary to set limits with customers in order to clear up misunderstandings.

It might also mean accepting what the customer says at face value, even if you think they are wrong. Put it this way: if the customer sees you accept what they are saying and that you believe in them, they are more likely to accommodate you. It is the first rule of respect: you show respect and the other party will reciprocate.

The whole process might require you to look at your customer base.

Who are the core customers, the most valuable ones? What do they need and how are you addressing that. Who are the bad customers? What is their problem and how are you contributing to that? How much are they costing your business? What are the long term implications if the relationship continues? How often do these problems occur? Is it something that the business can control or is it way outside? Can it be changed? What impact would that have on the business? If you were to change things, would it spill over into other areas like relationships with other customers, employee relations and media coverage?

All important questions to resolve. The answers will tell you what plan to put in place.

If the customer is costing you more than the return they are bringing in, then it is ok to let them go. The client has to generate a return, not for one job, but over the long term.

If the client is creating problems and costs, it is time to talk to them about finding somewhere that is a better fit. As long as you have done the critical analysis and assessed the cost on the business, it is the right thing to do.

And yes, if the client is abusive to staff, you have to show employees that you are putting them first. That relationship is far more important. Losing important staff can affect the business a lot more.

A difficult relationship with clients is not something you can ignore. If you do nothing about it, you could end up ignoring the customers, the employees and the stakeholders who are important for the business. Ignoring the problem could drain morale profitability.

Pulling the pin on a difficult customer is never easy. But it can be done if you look at the problem carefully and assess the impact.

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