March 24, 2009

Why you need a ‘banned customer’ list

I am a big fan of ‘banned customer lists’. Mainly because I believe staff should be put before customers. If your staff have customers that are disrespectful and more trouble than they are worth they should be banned. Free your staff up to deal with customers that do act like decent human beings. Some people have a problem with the concept of banning customers – they think it will kill their business. I’d say the opposite is true. If you ban nasty customers, not only to your nice customers benefit by not having to see them have tantrums in your store or office your staff will have more positive energy to share with those that really deserve it. Having customers is just like any other relationship – if it becomes abusive, end it. If you decide to just put up with the abuse, you are saying “it is ok for you to treat me like this”. Lots of businesses have ‘banned customer’ lists – they are people that are not worth the trouble, and are not welcome as customers. It is an awesome way to keep your staff protected and #1.

You should be in business to serve great people – not everyone and anyone who shows interest in your product. My favourite example of a banned customer is this story (yes I’ve told it a thousand times!):
Then CEO of Continental Airlines Gordon Bethune was chatting to staff. He left them so they could finish getting ready for the flight. As he was taking his seat on the plane he saw a passenger making a scene. The passenger had seen empty seats in first class and wondered why (with his elite member card) he wasn’t upgraded. The flight attendant said she'd contact a gate attendant to see what they could do. Before she could do that, the passenger started swearing and yelling at her. Gordon approached and said to the man "can I help somehow?"
The passenger said "who the **** are you"
Gordon responded "I’m the CEO of this company. May I see your ticket sir?"
The passenger handed it over to him. Gordon saw the price, pulled some notes from his pocket and handed him the cash, ripped the ticket then said "now, you get the **** off my airplane” the flight attendant could hardly keep a straight face. This story was circulated by email and fast became well loved. Gordon had a reputation as a leader who really respected his people. He gave out a great message to the team that day – he will back them, and protect them no matter what. The customers also saw that there was no room on the plane for a**holes (I imagine they applauded). Gordon would not tolerate his staff being disrespected. An example in a different company is written about in this blog post. The company added a new item to their terms of service that says “Are you cranky? This may not be the company for you." They did so because they didn’t want to expose the talented staff they’d worked so hard to find to rude people.

This attitude is quite different from businesses that always put customers first “the customer is always right” and encourage staff to do whatever it takes to please them…no matter what. There are some customers that are just not worth it.

Don’t be afraid of creating boundaries in your business. Your customers have expectations about you (what you will provide and by when) and so you should have expectations of them also (their behaviour and attitude). The more places that refuse to tolerate bad customer behaviour, the more polite our society will HAVE to become. Tantrums no longer tolerated! Your staff will have more energy to put into lovely customers that are worth going the extra mile for – they won’t be drained by tense customer interactions.

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