ASK YOUR CAREER COACH: Customers From Hell

Q. OUR company is quite a successful one. Established 25 years ago, we were the upstart in our industry. Today, we are the market leader, a position that we have held for the past 15 years. Unfortunately, many of our employees have developed a sense of complacency, even our HR Department. If you call the HR Department at around 10 in the morning, you will find many of the staff, the senior ones especially, not yet at their desk. No wonder the rest of the organization follows suit. And to think that we are paying our employees top of the line compensation—even higher than the market value for similar positions. How did we get this way? And what can we do to get back the energy of our early years?

A. As I was reading your email, I was reminded of Garfield, the plump lazy cat in the popular comic strips of the same name. I could actually visualize your company as Garfield, contentedly purring in front of the porch, enjoying the warm sunshine after a hefty meal. Well that is the problem of most successful companies, there is a tendency to just enjoy the rewards of winning and not engage in competition. This actually is the most dangerous stage of the game: when you are at the top, everything is downhill from then on.

This need not be the case though. In “The Age of Paradox” by Charles Handy, a book published 15 years ago but still very relevant today, the author wrote about the Sigmoid Curve. It is the horizontal S curve that is a symbol for the rise and decline of individuals and organizations. The topmost point is Point A where your company is right now. If you follow the curve, the natural progression would be going down. However, Handy states that “Wise are they who start a new curve before the first one peters out, because that is the way to build a new future.” And that “The secret to constant growth is to start a new Sigmoid Curve before the first one peters out.” Leaders drive the vision to point A and then start anew at a point lower than Point A and transform into a new organization. I suppose this is what your organization needs right now, a new Sigmoid Curve, a redefinition of its vision and mission, a goal that’s beyond your reach so that the organization can once again be infused with a new energy.

Q. We are an event organizer and we run large-scale conferences and events. We notice that customers now are getting to be more demanding sometimes to the point of being “customers from hell.” We aim to give the best to our customers but sometimes, like any organization (or human being for that matter), we fail to deliver to expectations. How do we deal with these types of customers?

A. Surveying literature on this, there seems to be two schools of thought on how to deal with “customers from hell” who give you a hard time. One is to deal with them and to handle them diplomatically. The other is don’t deal with them, they are not your customers. I lean more toward the latter school of thought.

I think customers—or anyone for that matter—have no right to give anyone “hell” simply because they did not get what they wanted. They have the option to remove their business from you if you fail to provide the product or service that they paid for. On the other hand, you also have the option not to offer your products or services to them if spending too much time attending to their needs are drawing valuable resources away from your loyal customers.

Many people have the notion that you should give other individuals the respect “that they deserve,” making respect conditional to how you judge them. I believe that every person deserves respect regardless of how you judge them, simply on the basis that each individual is a human being. Respect should be given like the sun that shines equally on all of us, regardless of economic status, gender, age and other differences.

Author: Regina Galang Reyes. First published in Management Systems Asia, April 2010 issue.

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Founding Editor, People at Work, Business, Phiippine Daily Inquirer

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