How to tell the customer he is wrong
As a business owner, I do whatever possible to make my customers happy. When they ask for a new feature, I get to work on the proposal right away, and will have it to them ASAP. If they wish to negotiate the price, I set up a meeting to discuss the requirements. When I’m convinced the price is too high, I revise it. If the customer asks for rush delivery, I will do what I can to meet the deadline.

As you can see, I’m committed to making my customers happy.

What if They are Wrong?

We had a customer (i.e., Steve) from North Carolina that was a toughie. Even when things were going well, he came up with something that he didn’t like. “Jimmie, you guys need to be a better job! I will not tolerate any more mistakes!” After reviewing these situations with the team, we often determined the issue was on their side, and not because of something we failed to do.

For example, Steve’s company asked us to develop a database to collect information throughout the year. Our team worked on the feature, and had it ready within a week. We provided a demo to the client via WebEx, and they were happy. At the end of the year, however, Steve called me upset that the report was “not running right.” After a quick review, I realized they had not populated any of the data for the entire year. Of course, he blamed us for failing to remind his team that they needed to update the records.

How to Take Care of It

I suppose that I could call Steve and tell him that he and his team are incompetent. They should know that the data must be entered by them, and that we have nothing to do with this part of the work. As you know, this approach is going to cause more problems, so here’s how I handled it.

Steve, I wanted to follow-up with you regarding the database issue. After thinking about it, I realized that I should have informed your team that you were to update the database throughout the year. My apologies for failing to communicate this expectation. However, we have a team ready to help you get the work done. I know you need the report by this Friday, so please give me a call to get going. Thank you.

After sharing this story with colleagues, some tell me that I should put Steve in his place. I should let him know that he is wrong for expecting us to do their work. I see the point shared by business associates, but I’m confident that teaching Steve a lesson will do little good in the long run. The next year Steve was just as difficult on us as before, but this was a major contract for our company. Thankfully, he was up for retirement, and a new point-of-contact was assigned. This person was nice, professional, and reasonable.

There are times when we need to take a tough stance with customers. In some cases, we can tell them that we’re no longer interested in doing business with them. However, my experience has shown that taking the high-road will work most of the time.