Customers are always right—or are they? As business owners, we try to go above and beyond to provide the best possible experience and customer service to our clients. However, there are times that, despite our best efforts, we simply can’t resolve the situation in a manner that’s satisfactory to both parties.
Three business owners—Patrick Barnhill, founder of SpecialistID in Miami, Florida; Tim Maliyil, CEO of AlertBoot in Las Vegas, Nevada; and Mona Patel, CEO of Motivate Design in New York City—sound off on how they’ve handled unreasonable or impossible customer service situations.
Tell us about a time when a customer made an unreasonable demand. How did you handle it?
Patrick Barnhill: It seems that unreasonable demands have become the norm these days. Amazon’s two-day Prime shipping and lots of other factors have totally distorted most shoppers’ perception of real costs for small businesses fulfilling orders.
Luckily, a small percentage of demands are unreasonable and we are able to write them off as a cost of doing business and staying competitive. If it will cost us less than $100, my staff is trained to “Do the right thing” by the customer. The right thing is making them happy even if it’s a loss for us. If it is over that amount, it will get special attention and may require asking the customer if they can meet us somewhere in the middle.
Tim Maliyil: Being in the software business, we often have to balance requests that would genuinely improve the software and requests that are overly specific to a particular customer’s needs. We try to educate the customer about the necessary engineering process involved in fulfilling a request, and we help them understand the cost to the company. Reasonable customers tend to understand why something gets rejected, but the unreasonable ones will still put up a fight.
Mona Patel: Last year, we worked with a client on a design SWAT project in which we were tasked with branding a new kind of conference. The project was scoped, staffed and started within a few days, and our designers were excited to get to work. These SWAT projects are designed for quick turnaround: two weeks, two rounds of iteration and final delivery of branding materials—icons, fonts, color palettes, etc. In this case, the client asked for more rounds of iteration, which required more hours. Our designers wanted to please the client while delivering their best work, but we had a dedicated timeline.
When the partnership began to feel abusive, I stepped in. I called the client with scope in hand to clearly and directly communicate what we promised, how we over-delivered and how he overstepped. I presented him with three solutions: take the deliverables as is: no added iterations, no added time, no added budget; two more rounds of iterations for added time and budget; [or] a working session with the designers to address all issues and hand off the deliverables at the end of the session, billed at their hourly rate for three hours. He went with option #3 and launched a successful conference. We have worked together ever since.
For the rest of the interview, head over to the AMEX Open Forum.