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The Customer Is Not Always Right

In some rare cases it may become necessary to fire a customer that disrespects your team. In those cases, show your team that you have their backs.
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I know some of you who just read this headline are clutching your proverbial pearls, especially if you’re in the business of serving customers. And really, we’re all in the business of serving our customers, so I don’t really believe this headline, either … for the most part. Let me explain.

I love listening to everything our customers say about our self-service online marketing tools, including new features they want and changes they want to see. It only helps my business. I try to instill in everyone that works here at VerticalResponse that going above and beyond with our customers is important.

Since a big part of what we do is helping small businesses create and send e-mail marketing campaigns, there are a few essential things we must deliver on in order to have happy customers: 1) Ensure that our website and online tools are up and running fast for the thousands of people who use them everyday; 2) Ensure that our customers know how to use our features; and 3) Most importantly, ensure their e-mail campaigns are delivered to their subscribers’ inboxes. We work day and night so that all this is running smoothly during a customer’s experience with VerticalResponse.

But every now and then, someone’s experience isn’t perfect, through no fault of ours. We once had a customer who we worked diligently with to make sure he was going about his e-mail marketing campaigns in the proper way. We cleaned his lists, made sure he was sending e-mail only to those who requested it, and kept a close eye on people who were complaining that they were getting e-mails when they didn’t request them. Repeatedly, this customer disrespected our requests and kept attempting to send questionable e-mail to questionable recipients. (I’m sure you’ve all gotten e-mails in your inbox like this.) So inevitably, we had to ask him to leave our services.

That’s right, we “fired” a customer.

Here’s a note from this customer, “Gloomsale” (name changed to protect the guilty), to our very hard-working e-mail delivery group:

As CEO, I have a $7-fig salary and well connected … You don't. My time is valuable, yours, less so. Different levels. … Should I blog and rant about this all over the web and stamp my CEO on everything? Would that get VR more customers or less?? Be smart, don't F w/ my time.

Some of you might think it’s never appropriate to call a customer out. But in this case, I did, and I don’t think he was prepared for it since I haven’t heard from him or seen anything published about us as he promised. I politely e-mailed him back and told him that we didn’t agree with his e-mail practices and that our team went above and beyond to help him, but he didn’t reciprocate our goodwill. And I reiterated that we just wouldn’t be able to make it work with his business.

Why did I do it?

  • This customer was abusing our service after we tried to work with him for months
  • My team works hard and they don’t need to be belittled by someone who touts that he has a seven-figure salary
  • My employees need to know that I've got their backs

I think that our team did the right thing by continuing to be polite to this customer and kill him with kindness. But they gave me the opportunity to decide, as the business owner, if I wanted to have a say in this exchange. I can guarantee you that my team was pretty excited that I took the opportunity to stick up for them and the company. No business needs to be abused by the customer. They’re not always right.

Do you have an experience where your customer wasn’t right? Did you call them out? If not, why?

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Feb 22, 2012

JANINE POPICK

Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse (a Deluxe company), a leading provider of self-service email and social media marketing tools for small businesses. The company was ranked No. 4,882 on the 2013 Inc. 5000. @janinepopick




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