Building a better business by understanding ‘that’ customer
Let’s tackle a very difficult but extremely important topic: the black hole customer and how to divorce them.
The science buffs among you are already well familiar with the scientific concept of the black hole: the astrological area that remains when very massive stars collapse at the end of their life cycle. After a black hole has formed, it can continue to grow by absorbing mass from its surroundings. Its gravitational force is so strong that nothing can escape, not even light, hence the name – black hole.
A black hole customer, then, is that customer who will continue to absorb or suck in whatever you offer — nothing, and I do mean nothing, will ever be enough to satisfy this consumer.
How does this happen? Actually, very easily – it is not uncommon to see this at the BBB. Our goal is to help businesses avoid this consumer and get free from their gravitational pull.
Here is a common scenario: You contract with a customer to provide a product or service at their home. The process goes along fairly smoothly, but you recognize that the customer is extremely particular and demands numerous changes. So, you start getting very specific in your documentation. Toward the end of the project, the customer’s additional demands, changes and requests grow, so to finish the job, be free of the customer, and to get your final payment, you give in and do whatever the customer asks.
Of course, as with any black hole, that is not enough. So the requests and demands, and additional changes continue. Now you realize that you are getting close to breaking even on the job or maybe even losing money on the job. However, and this is a big however, the situation has now become personal, you have become emotionally involved (you have it in your gut), and you are bound and determined to satisfy this customer no matter what, so you keep on giving.
But of course, you cannot satisfy the black hole, so amazingly, you are now being asked to provide products or services that have absolutely nothing to do with the original job. This can even get so ridiculous as the consumer asking something like, “Can I have a pony, a box of chocolates, and will you wash my car?” Now of course that is ridiculous, but the requests of the black hole customer will border on exactly that.
For just a moment, let’s take a break from the scenario and explore how and why this happens – and it is actually pretty simple and straightforward.
What you must first understand is that you and the customer are working from completely different perspectives. For instance, let’s say somehow the customer has gotten you to actually buy them a pony (the original job was to remodel a bathroom) and then they ask, “Why not throw in a new saddle, too?”
At this point you are about to explode. You have the entire job and situation in your head and you calculate, “I have already discounted and refunded over $10,000, lost money on the job, bought you a pony, and you have the audacity to ask me for a saddle?” See, you have the whole $10,000 figure in your head and you cannot imagine how anyone in their right mind could think that you should buy them a saddle too!
However, the black hole customer isn’t thinking that way at all. They can’t believe you are throwing such a fit about a $100 saddle – it’s not that big of a deal (to them). You see, they are not thinking about the whole job, just that they are asking you to do a small thing ($100) and you are being completely unreasonable about doing it – and they cannot understand why.
For some consumers, it is a game, for others, it is just that they cannot be satisfied, nothing is ever enough – they are a black hole!
Back to the scenario. It is at this point that the customer often turns to the BBB with a complaint as they are actually upset that (in our scenario), you are unwilling to buy them a $100 saddle. When we forward the complaint to you, you explode again, incredulous that any person could have possibly filed a complaint, and that we would expect you to respond. These are tough and messy situations, but by providing a detailed synopsis of exactly what happened, what you did to satisfy the customer, including any documentation, most businesses can usually provide sufficient evidence to show they have already made a good faith effort to fix the issue. I have actually seen one complaint where a customer started by having an appliance replaced, and the company, by trying to placate this black hole customer by throwing in warranties, etc., ended up replacing a countertop, flooring, and very nearly renovating an entire kitchen!
Now that you are all riled up, what is the answer, and how do you avoid this? It is by knowing the secret of divorcing your customer and being willing to do it.
Divorcing that customer
The wisest business owners recognize that not every customer is a good customer, and that sometimes the best thing you can do is to let a bad customer go (divorce them) and send their money to someone else, along with all of their headaches!
You see, business owners who have been through an experience with a black hole customer before recognize the signs and realize they could very well be dealing with a customer that they will never satisfy. In this case, they will end the relationship early, not let themselves get drawn in emotionally, let the customer go, cut their losses and move on.
You want to build brand-loyal repeat customers who appreciate the work you do, will give you a fair chance to do a good job, and will refer others like them to you – those are the consumers you want.
Fact is, the black hole customer — even if you do everything for them, buy them a pony, and throw in a saddle — will still complain about how hard you were to work with and how they had to badger you for everything they got in the end. Honestly, we see this every day.
So, to build your better business, do not get drawn in by the black hole customer, but instead be willing to divorce your customer when necessary, keeping your money, your sanity, your integrity, your ponies, and your saddles!
John Paschall is president/CEO of the BBB in Southeast Texas.