The Customer Is Not Always Right

I am really big on “customer care,” and I have been so for a very long time. Customers are the lifeblood of our business; without them, we have no business. Sounds simple enough, but—this is a really big “but”—occasionally I have met the “customer from hell,” and I would wager good money that you have, too.

I need to say right up front that most people who complain have a legitimate reason to do so, and we should always actively welcome customer complaints. However, sometimes it is just not possible to reach agreement with or appease a dissatisfied customer or client.

There are two main types of “customer from hell” that we need to be on the lookout for:

  1. The Manipulator. Everyone would like something for nothing given the chance, but most of us stop short of deliberate scheming. Those who are clearly complaining simply to get freebies—meals, vouchers, tickets—need to be handled firmly. Otherwise they may go away and tell their friends to try the same trick—and put you out of business.
  2. The Noisy One. Symptoms include plenty of volume, fist thumping, table banging, bulging veins but no real cause for complaint. Sound familiar? These people just want to be heard. They’ve got a bit of a chip on their shoulder. Take them away from the crowd, sit them down (it’s harder to be angry in a seated position), stay in control and, if all else fails, say, “I’m not prepared to listen until you stop shouting.” If need be, call for backup.

The following are techniques for special situations:

Chronic Complainers. Some people (less than 10 percent) complain out of habit. It’s a behavior pattern they learned at some point in their lives. The rules for dealing with chronic complainers are simple.

  • Be patient; don’t give them real cause to complain about your attitude.
  • Ask closed questions; keep dialogue to a minimum.
  • Stick to the point.

Some managers will call their bluff: “Well, Mr. Davis, I am really sorry you are yet again unhappy with our service. Perhaps you would like to try another firm.” This often stops them in their tracks.

Know when to draw the line. Every company will draw its own boundaries, but some general guidelines used by many businesses include drawing the line at:

  • Threats of violence—physical or verbal
  • Abuse—swearing, shouting
  • When nothing seems to placate him or her
  • When reason doesn’t prevail
  • When you correct the problem but there are still complaints
  • When it’s clear your customer is out to abuse the system

Some customers simply aren’t worth having. They are bad for business. Don’t be frightened about losing them‑providing you are certain that you have been fair, acted with integrity and endeavored to obtain a “win-win” conclusion.

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Jonathan Farrington is a globally recognized business coach, mentor, author, consultant and chairman of The JF Corporation and CEO of Top Sales Associates. For more information and tips from Jonathan, visit, or go to his blog at

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