That’s Rich! By Rich Lindblom

We’re all guilty of it.

Whether it’s lending money to a relative, chowing down that dish you love even though it gives you heartburn, or dating the wrong person (sometimes again and again), we humans have a habit of repeating the same mistakes over and over. 

There’s an old saying about it that you’ve probably heard. It’s the definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing more than once and expecting a different result. 

The same holds true in the retail and service industries, where it might be even worse. I’m talking about our inexplicable willingness to continuing doing business with difficult customers. We’ve all had those “problem child” customers who keep coming back to your store.  Every time they walk through your front door you just want to run and hide, and you can’t help but roll your eyes when their name pops up on Caller ID. And yet you keep doing business with them. 

The question is why. I think it’s because we’ve been conditioned to believe that it’s OK for people to make our lives miserable, as long as they’re handing us cash when they’re done.  

Well, I’ve got a newsflash for you: It’s OK to say no to your problem-child customers! 

Some years back I had a customer who purchased a front load laundry pair from us. He was nice as could be in the store and at the time of delivery. But the next day he came back and complained about everything — the salesperson, the price, the washer and dryer, and the delivery crew. It was like night and day; he couldn’t have been nicer during the first interaction, but afterward he became a nightmare.

I did what I could to calm him down: I made sure he understood how the machines worked; I went online verifying that no one had a lower price; and I generally tried to appease him while allowing him to vent his anger. Eventually he left the store. 

A few years later he called again to set up a service call for his washer. A staffer took the call and sent out a tech, and the same exact thing happened again. Everything was wonderful when the tech left, but the next day he came into the store and just unloaded on me, yelling and cursing. It got so bad I nearly called the police. Eventually he left, but I made a huge note in our system: “Don’t ever service this person again!”

Sure enough, about three years later he calls back for service on his dryer. But this time I answered the phone. I was pretty sure I knew who it was, but I looked him up in our system just to be certain. I very politely declined to perform the service and suggested he call another service company. “You have to service me,” he said, but I explained that based on our previous dealings, we refuse to provide him service. He slammed the phone down in my ear, cursing me as he did.

A few minutes later his wife called back and asked very nicely if we could please service their dryer. “I’m sorry ma’am,” I told her calmly, “but based on the way your husband treated me and my employees in the past, I respectfully refuse to provide service to you. I am sorry.” She paused a moment and replied, “I’m sorry for whatever it was he did. Believe me when I say that I understand what you’re saying, and I don’t blame you.”

The moral of the story? Sometimes the money you make simply isn’t worth the aggravation a customer may cause you or your employees. Sometimes, you just have to tell them to “Hit the road Jack, and don’t you come back!”

Rich Lindblom is a former principal of Advanced Maytag Home Appliance Center in Schaumburg, Ill., and member of the Maytag Leadership Council. He recently sold the 64-year-old family business and retired after four decades in independent retail. Got something on your mind? You can reach Rich at egvrich@gmail.com.