How to Turn Disagreeable Clients Into Your Best Customers

difficult customers

Dealing With Difficult Customers

It’s not easy running a business today. A single customer complaint, handled improperly, can send your business into a tailspin. At the same time, if you respond to every single customer complaint, you end up wasting time and money chasing an unsolvable problem.

Enter Noah Fleming and Shawn Veltman, who have written a new book, Dealing with Difficult Customers: How to Turn Demanding, Dissatisfied, and Disagreeable Clients Into Your Best Customers. I recently had the opportunity to talk with them about their work in dealing with customers.


When the Customer Is Blatantly Wrong

You say that, “The customer is not always right. In fact, the customer is often blatantly wrong.” Share your perspective on this. How did “the customer is always right” develop and where did it go wrong?

All of your readers will have their own favorite “unreasonable or crazy customer stories.” In our experience, after complaining about accountants and management, it’s in most salespeople’s top five favorite cocktail party conversation topics.

We start our book with a list of completely clueless, hilarious, and real customer complaints.

Our favorites are:

  • “I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local convenience store does not sell proper biscuits, like custard creams or ginger nuts.” 
  • “Although the brochure said there was a ‘fully equipped kitchen,’ there was no egg slicer in the drawers.”  
  • “We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers, as they were all Spanish.”

Funny when you read them, but scary when you hear that these are 100% real complaints left by real customers. Is the customer right to be upset that the local store doesn’t sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts? Or a customer who complains of too many Spanish people in Spain? Of course not. In these examples, the customers are blatantly nuts.

This idea that “the customer is always right” is one of those things that’s easy for management to tell their frontline employees; it sounds good in practice, and it leads to tremendous wasted time, effort, and often burnout.  Because, sometimes, you really do have to fire customers – one of the things we talk about at length in the book.  Telling your people that the customer is always right is asking them to close their eyes to reality, and when you ask them to do that, it hurts your ability to ask them to do anything else.  After all, with some of the complaints above, how could those customers be right?  What does it mean to treat the customer as if they’re right?

15 Bad Habits that Inhibit Brand Building

Managing A Global Brand

Building a global brand today is different than it was only a few years ago. Globalization, localization and personalization are forces that impact how to best manage a global brand. In Larry Light and Joan Kiddon’s new book, New Brand Leadership: Managing at the Intersection of Globalization, Localization and Personalization, the authors share their over 50 years of experience in building the world’s largest brands. From forming a brand vision to measuring its performance, they share a framework for developing and executing a global brand strategy.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Larry Light about his new work. Larry is the CEO of Arcature LLC. He was a senior executive and board member at BBDO and President of the international division of Ted Bates. He was Global CMO of McDonald’s from 2002 to 2005. More recently, Light was the Global Chief Brands Officer of IHG.


“Low price and best value are not synonymous.”


Bad Habits That Inhibit Brand Building

Would you share the bad habits that inhibit brand building? I found myself nodding and think readers would find these compelling.New Brand Leadership

We identified 15 bad habits that impede organizations from building brands, regardless of industry, category, and geography. These habits are not stand-alone forces: there are two underlying connections among these, and these are enterprise culture and leadership. First, culture matters. When there is a conflict between culture and strategy, culture wins. Culture fights change. Culture fights for the status quo. Culture nurtures complacency. Second, brand leadership is different from brand management. Brand management is taught in business schools. Effective brand leadership is different. Brand management is about the execution of specific brand-building actions. Brand leadership is different. It is about getting the right results through the efforts of others. It is about educating, inspiring, influencing and evaluating. Effective leaders create results by getting others to do the right things to produce the right results. Effective brand leadership is top down. For example, none of the work we did at McDonald’s could have happened without the leadership of Jim Cantalupo and Charlie Bell. Nissan needed Carlos Ghosn. IBM needed Lou Gerstner. Popeye’s needs Cheryl Bachelder.


“Brand leadership is different from brand management.” -Larry Light


15 Bad Branding Habits

  1. Complacency
  2. Change for the Sake of Change
  3. Financial Engineering as a Growth Strategy
  4. Cost-Managing the Way to Profitable Growth
  5. Focusing on Customers You Do Not Have at the Expense of Customers You Do Have
  6. Failing to Keep the Brand Relevant
  7. Price Segmentation Instead of Market Segmentation
  8. Thinking the Lowest Price Is the Same as the Best Value
  9. Failing to Instill a Quality Mind-Set
  10. Silo Mentality
  11. Focusing on the Short-Term Rather Than Creating a Short-Term/Long-Term Strategy
  12. Not Sharing Across Functions, Geographies, and Brands
  13. Believing the Regions Are Not as Sophisticated as the Center
  14. Believing That Brand Management Is All About Marketing Communication
  15. Allowing Data to Decide


The Most Insidious Bad Brand Building Habit

What’s the most common bad habit you have witnessed?

One that is becoming increasingly visible and insidious is the desire to satisfy the demands of Wall Street over satisfying the demands of customers. Ultimately, the sustainable source of cash flow comes from customers exchanging money for your offer. Financial engineering is not the basis for enduring profitable growth. Managing money is not the same as managing brands. Stock buybacks and increased dividends indicate that a company believes that investing in product and service development, innovations and brand-building will not yield satisfactory returns to shareholders. So, they just give cash back to shareholders and let them decide where to invest.


“To grow trust, we need to grow quality.”


The Evolution of Global Marketing