When Working with Customers is Like a Bad Case of Hemorrhoids

By Rachel McDermott Analysis, How To

The itch.
The burn.
The dread.

A bad case of hemorrhoids can make a person miserable. You try to take care of business and find yourself bleeding. It stings, and after it can hurt to walk. You’ll need Preparation H and time to heal.

A bad customer relationship can be like a bad case of hemorrhoids.

Maybe it starts with just an itch. The signs are there that something is wrong. But it’s subtle enough for you to ignore the problem. But like most problems, ignoring it just makes the situation worse.

What are the signs my customer relationship is toxic?

1. You dread any sort of communication

You hate getting calls, even email, from your customer. You find every interaction unpleasant or annoying. If you’re feeling this way, chances are, there’s a problem.

2. The communication you do have is unhealthy

Does your customer think it’s okay to yell at you? To curse? Some customers love to use emotional manipulation to get what they want. They’ll use the four horsemen: guilt, shame, fear & anger to do it, anything to turn the tables in their favor or control you.

3. There’s a mismatch between what your customer expects and what you’re willing to give

If you haven’t set expectations ahead of time you can quickly find yourself being at the beckon call of your customers. If you have set expectations and your customers aren’t listening or respecting your boundaries, you’ve still got a problem.

There are 6 different characteristics of toxic customers

1. The Know-it-all can do anything and everything better than you.

They know how to run your business better than you (they say). They rarely miss an opportunity to remind you that they know more than you. It’s difficult to get these customers to trust you – they seem to believe that deep down you’re really incompetent.

2. The Snob thinks they’re better than you.

They see you as “the help”. They smirk at you, talk down to you and belittle you. They treat you as if you’re beneath them. Sure, they may follow your instructions, pay their bills on time and do whatever you ask, but only so long as you know your place (that you work for them).

3. The Indifferent loves to say “just take care of it”.

They pay for your product or sign up for your service. And then they disappear. They disconnect, completely removing themselves from the process. They can’t be bothered to help you get the results they’re paying for. Nor are they willing to do anything themselves. Yet these same customers are pissed-off when they don’t get the results they “deserve”.

4. The Freeloader takes as much as they can for as long as they can.

If they have to pay they spend as little as possible, working to stretch each dollar further than it’s supposed to go. If they agree to buy your product they want you to throw in a bunch of extras (on top of any bonuses you’re offering) as a sign of “good faith”. If you’re selling services they’ll use vague wording in your documents to squeeze more free work out of you. If 90% percent of your materials are free and you decide to charge for something, they’re upset about it.

5. The Dictator tells you what they want, instead of asking.

Their attitude? “I’m the one with the money; you’ll do as I say”. Working with these customers becomes an uphill battle as they fight for control over how things are done. They’re okay with abusing you so long as it gets them what they want.

6. The Irresponsible agrees to the terms you lay out, and then completely ignores them after the sale

You can’t count on them to keep their word or honor any commitments they’ve made. They’re not always malicious, but they’re not reliable either.

These six customer types aren’t isolated, either. A customer can be an irresponsible dictator, a freeloading snob or any other combination.

Recognizing these customers for who and what they are, is important. But recognition isn’t particularly useful if you can’t get away from them. So the real question is…

How do I avoid these kinds of customers?

1. Create boundaries, policies and systems ahead of time, when you’re not in an emotional situation.

Map out the things you need to do to get the behavior you want.

Planning this out ahead of time is great because it gives you something to fall back on. You can empathize and listen when they’re upset. You can cry with them when they’re hurt. Even better, you can do it without hurting your business.

The planning you do ahead of time is important because it tells you how far you can go and how you can help. If customers get abusive, you know how to protect yourself. But the planning needs to be in place before things go wrong.

2. Create leverage of your own

It’s really common for businesses to spend their time chasing after anyone that looks like a potential customer. They act as if a free consultation can magically sprout money when a customer has none. So they give each customer one-on-one attention in hopes of winning the sale. It works from time to time but it’s usually hit or miss.

Leverage gives you the ability to market your business all day, every day without you needing to be involved. It could be an app, book or newsletter. It can be free or paid. It can be the product itself or a bait piece that points to the real product.

When it’s done right, leverage gives you lots of leads. That’s important because it gives you the ability, the peace of mind you need to say No to a difficult customer.

It’s easy to say no to a dysfunctional customer when you have customers waiting to replace him. This encourages customers to behave. But it also means you don’t have to grovel or beg for business. You’re in-demand after all.

3. Create uniqueness

Your uniqueness should be something your customers’ value, but can only get from you. When it’s done right, this kind of uniqueness creates respect. Loyalty is a natural byproduct. If your customers leave you, they lose your uniqueness – something they genuinely value but won’t be able to replace.

Because, when you’re unique, you’re remembered.

Here are a few examples.

BMW: The ultimate driving machine
Sargento: Cheese expertise
Red Bull: Gives you wings
FedEx: When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.

Do it right and price isn’t the main focus anymore.

It gives each of your customers a powerful incentive to behave because it sends an implied message. “You need me more than I need you”.

4. Cultivate healthy relationships with your customers through effective communication

Set expectations ahead of time and hold everyone accountable. Communicate changes as they occur. Be honorable to your team as well as your customers.

If you have done your boundary setting and policy-making properly, there shouldn’t be loopholes that make you vulnerable to abuse.

With a little preparation you can heal and prevent negative customer relationships. You may even find yourself truly enjoying your work and the people your business serves.

I don’t need to like my customers and it doesn’t matter if we have a good relationship because I have a contract that protects me

Even if your contract is ironclad the problem is that contracts need to be enforced. If your customer doesn’t want to abide by the terms they agreed to, you’re going to have to ask the court to enforce the contract.

Without leverage you simply won’t be able to get them to do what you want them to do, especially if they hate your guts. If they don’t like you–referrals, testimonials, repeat sales, cross-sells–those all go away.

It’s a small price to pay to put up with it so I can get the money

If the money comes with no strings attached, maybe. But that’s rarely the case. These headaches almost always come with a cost. You’ll have a loss in time, which means you could have gotten more money from someplace else with better terms. You miss out on better customers and more time to do what you want or need to do.

What if I really need the money?

Option 1: Accept with conditions.

For example, you could say, If you’d like a discount, here’s what we’ll have to agree on. And spell out the conditions. If you can’t reach a mutual agreement, be prepared to walk away.

Option 2: Go for it.

But do so with your eyes open. Selling yourself sort or allowing others to take advantage just because you need the money means you’re probably going to have to put up with a lot of garbage. You’ll have the money you need, but work may really suck for a while. Also, keep in mind that any referrals they might give you are likely to be just like them, people looking to take advantage.

Bad customers are like hemorrhoids.

They hurt. They burn and itch. You need to prevent inflammation and attract the right customers. If you find you have toxic customers, the best thing you can do is fire them or do things to encourage them to become good customers.

You should only accept the behavior you want. Set your boundaries; make sure you have your leverage and uniqueness. Be prepared to turn business away. Create a plan to deal with toxic customers. That way you can move forward without the itch, the burn, and the dread of facing these kinds of problems.

Have you had to go through negative customer experiences in order to learn something? Or have you been fortunate to have avoided toxic customers so far?

  • I think that one of the best ways to avoid bad customers is to target your advertising to just people who would actually have an interest in your product. People tend to do a good job and treat others with respect because they value their own reputation and what they do. When you invite any random person to be a customer, you’re almost asking for problems.

    • Agreed. Seems like there’s a mental shift that takes place when you work with people who are interested vs. a cold contact.

      And the part that really sucks about the wrong customer? Their referrals. They tend to refer people who act and think just like them. Trouble x2.

      Great thoughts Mike. 🙂