Anyone can be a better as****e

The industry my startup Buildkar sells to (small and medium sized contractors and builders) has it’s share of genuinely nice people and genuinely rude people. Just like any other industry.

Part of being a successful entrepreneur is knowing when a genuinely unhappy customer is expressing their unhappiness in a rude manner vs. knowing when a person is being an ass because that is who they are.

Recognising an unhappy customer

This takes some amount of skill and a lot of empathy.

You have got to understand the problem from the customer’s point of view before you blurt out your excuse for why something happened.
Sure, your vehicle may have had a flat tyre or the driver got stuck in traffic or didn’t follow the directions. These are your problems to solve not your customer’s problems.
In such cases, first off, be able to resolve some or all of the customer’s issues before you make excuses for why stuff happened.

Recognising an asshole customer

This takes a lot more skill.

Figuring out that the customer is just pushing his luck to see how far they can push you or your team. They are trying to see what kind of last minute discounts they can wrangle out of the deal.

It is unbelievable the kind of tricks that will be played on you/your team just so the customer can have their way or get away with more than the originally negotiated deal.

We have to deal with such customers on and off and I usually give the customer the benefit of doubt — as long as it’s not overly problematic for my team.

For example, some customers delay payment. We know they are just doing this to keep the funds in their account for a few extra days (to earn more interest or whatever other reason). In such cases, we have to look at the long term customer relationship and just let them be for a few extra days.

We recently had to deal with an asshole customer:
He was a new customer (maybe 1 or 2 transactions) and paid cash on delivery. On the last transaction, he asked if he could pay by cheque (I know, I know — that's a red flag!) and my team took a call given his clean payment history.

After the items were unloaded at his site, his people gave our driver the cheque after inspection of the items.

The very next day, the customer calls us to complain that some items (15 out of 500 concrete blocks) were damaged and he was going to instruct his bank to hold the cheque.

WTH, right?!

  1. How did his people inspect each item during unloading and not find a problem then?
  2. If there was a problem with few items, why hold the entire payment?
  3. How do we know that the damage was not caused by the customer’s people? After all, nothing was damaged at time of delivery.

We are now experienced enough to deal with such situations and got our payment (in full) but only after wasting many hours explaining to the customer the above three points.

Dealing with a known asshole

Now that we know this guys is an asshole, we know how to deal with him.

He came back to us to order another load of blocks this week (Yeah, our prices and quality are that good. Really.) We often see this happen. A customer will try his luck and if it works, it works. If it doesn’t work, he will just forget the trouble he caused us.

New rules for this customer: 100% advance payment only.

He has gone from getting the benefit of CoD to having to make advance payment and having no leverage over us.

He has gone from being a priority customer to someone whom my team doesn’t want to deal with unless there is no other choice.

Customer is king. Blah blah blah.

This is true if, and only if, the customer is not being an asshole. Once you recognise that he is being an asshole, all bets are off.

But you are a startup. Blah blah blah.

Especially because we are a startup — we don’t have the man-power to deal with crappy customers when there are thousands of customers who will benefit from my team’s skills and support.

Heck, we even implemented a “Blacklisted Customer” feature in our software years ago just to ensure we don’t have to waste time dealing with assholes.