As customer experience professionals we often advocate for “customer rights.” I find it helpful to think of myself as protecting my customers from my company. But make no mistake – advocating often is not the same as advocating always. When should we stop advocating for the customer?
Here’s one example. Imagine you own and operate a newsstand near Times Square in New York City. A man stops by, opens a package of gum, puts one in his mouth and walks away. This is theft and is against the law. As an owner you are within your rights to press charges and claim damages.
Reading this example your reaction may well be “That sounds like a lot of work for gum. Maybe it’s smarter to just forget about it.” What if you owned a car dealership and someone broke into a car and drove it off the lot? Is it still smarter to forget about it?
Examples like this happen each day in business and for some reason customer experience professionals mistakenly (blindly?) continue to advocate for the customer.
This scenario happened to me recently. A customer failed to meet their payment obligations on time despite helpful reminders. Various constituents provided rationales for why we should continue to advocate for the customer and essentially “forget about it.” Here are the WORST arguments I heard:
- From Customers: “As a valued partner we hope your company will continue to support us.” (Actual example.) This is a weak argument because “valued partners” pay on time. If a customer chooses not to pay, it seems reasonable that I would choose to stop supporting them.
- From Salespeople: “If we push this customer too hard they will stop buying from us and go to our competitors instead.” This is a weak argument also. If a customer doesn’t pay we should encourage them to go to the competition –we don’t want or need these customers.
So when should you stop advocating on behalf of the customer? I group the reasons below into the broad category of “damages the company.” The criteria I recommend:
- High opportunity cost – if your company can serve other [paying] customers more effectively by stopping support for a small number of others, stop advocating. Free support is not an option.
- History of “bad behavior” – it makes sense to assume positive intent or honest mistakes by customers – we all make mistakes. But if your customer has a history of late payment or abusing your goodwill, stop advocating.
- Abusive to employees – if you have a customer who refuses to treat your employees with respect, stop advocating. I consider this criteria critical because of the linkage between employees, customer satisfaction, and profitability.
The pivot point is that it isn’t worth your time to advocate for (or support or sell to) customers who don’t pay. Losing customers who don’t pay is “addition by subtraction.”
The rest of the story… Ultimately we suspended service. We were willing to sacrifice (if that is indeed the right word) customers who don’t or won’t pay in order to serve those that do. Shortly after we suspended service, we were paid. If your products and services are indeed valuable, customers will pay. If you don’t take a firm stance your inaction reinforces the notion that your products are worthless and you set a dangerous precedent for your business.