February 2017. In This Issue:
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editor's CUT

Editor's Cut: The customer is always right…right?

Wrong. It is a lovely fairytale to believe that the customer is always right—a bit like saying that every horse can be a unicorn. Saying that the customer is always right sets out a course of unified action (or at least sentiment) for an organization. If you start every customer engagement with the belief that the customer is always right, then no matter what, your front line is empowered to make shifts and changes to the experience in order to please, thrill, delight and retain any and every customer at any and every point of engagement.

But here is the truth: Some customers are not worth keeping. Some are flat out wrong. Some are just plain toxic.

I recently had an experience with this exact type of customer. In the end, we had to actually fire the client, stop doing business with the company, and take the time to step back and really calculate the “cost” that this toxic customer was having on our business…not just what impact the customer made to our sales goals. From unprofessional and caustic emails to a general pattern of ridiculous behavior, this customer was a drain on resources and Tylenol.

The question for us quickly focused on how we could calculate the real “cost” of this customer in the terms of the value the customer brought to the bottom line minus the damage she was doing to staff morale and time being wasted to chase after inappropriate demands. The reality became most clear when we assigned an actual dollar value to the team’s time and to what we believed was the value of a happy, productive and valued team. When we laid out the numbers in those terms, the customer stopped being right almost immediately, and the value to the business became a big, glaring negative number. So finally, when I refused to give in to her demands and she asked, “Well, what do you expect me to do with your moronic team?”, the answer was simple: “I think you should walk away and find success with another team, but thanks so much for giving us the opportunity to really get to know you.”

If we were to look at this customer in the context of a single bubble—the dollar amount of her contract or the notes from her last meeting—we may not have been able to gather a complete picture, let alone her total value to the company. Yet this is almost exactly what marketers do with our customers on a daily basis. We see the numbers through a narrow, channel-specific keyhole, deciding on strategies and paths to engagement based on a single number or account view.

So it all begs the question: Do we actually know the value of a customer, or are we just guessing?

In reality, it is an ever-expanding picture…and one that isn’t easy to bring into focus. It requires that information come from all over the organization. But if I learned anything from this toxic customer, it is to remember that a wealth of information about the customer needs to come from your teams. Had we not stepped back to see the toll and the cost of this toxicity on our actual team members, we would have ignored a massive cost. If data is the fuel that propels the customer experience forward, our teams are the actual engine. And if that engine quits or is fracturing and falling apart, then the entire machine goes nowhere, no matter how great the fuel is.

Until next month!


Follow me @lizkmiller on Twitter.