How to (Not) Treat Clients: My Approach to Customer Service

Posted by Marnie Burch on

How to not treat clients; my approach to customer service.

I was disappointed by one of my suppliers the other day.

In bold, bright red, all-caps lettering on their Instagram feed, this company began publicly shaming nonpaying customers.

From what I could gather, these people had commented on some of the company’s posts that they were interested in purchasing whatever was featured in the post; they didn’t go through the company’s website to make a purchase. No money was transacted before the company contracted with their artisans to create products specifically for these people who had commented.

The company claimed these customers had signed a legally binding contract by making a comment on a post. They claimed they couldn’t pay their contractor and artisans because these customers hadn’t paid. They claimed they’d post these customers’ email addresses on Instagram for all to see.

There are so many things wrong with these claims, and nonpaying customers are the least of it.

The potential for nonpaying customers always exists, and there are better ways of mitigating those risks (I’ll talk about how I manage those risks in an upcoming post). This incident is more about how a business treats its clients—potential, current, or former—and less about bad clients.

According to their comments, many of these customers were waiting on the company for one reason or another, such as waiting for an actual invoice from the company. Regardless of whether the clients were right or wrong or something in between, the company began yelling at these people in their replies rather than working with these clients privately. This is a detestable way to run a business.

At some point, all clients make mistakes, and my own clients will likely be no different. Maybe they’re slow in responding, or they’re in late paying, or maybe they don’t even pay at all. I promise I will never take that public; that’s between the client and me. I’ll do everything I can to rectify the situation kindly, firmly, and fairly. And privately. If I ever need to part ways with a client (may that never happen!), that too will be taken care of privately. I will never berate or shame a client—potential, current, or former.

At some point, I will mess up. It’s guaranteed. Once I’m aware of it, I’ll admit to it, even when it hurts. If it happens privately, I’ll fix it privately. If it happens publicly, I’ll fix it publicly. I will always do my best to make things right, without excuse or dissembling.

I felt so strongly about this incident I immediately began to write this post. I felt so strongly about it that I’ll be adding something about this to my company’s values. And I felt so strongly that, as sad as it made me, I decided to unfollow this company on their social media platforms, and I’ll no longer do business with them.

This particular company went on the defensive by yelling at their followers, berating their clients, and whining about their lot in life. Then they deleted this problematic post after receiving overwhelming blowback. No apologies or mea culpas. Just bitterness from them and a bitter taste in their clients’ and followers’ mouths.

Far be it from me to ever follow such an example.

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  • @David M, owning a small business is hard, isn’t it? Hopefully we can all learn from each other as we navigate around all these crazy pitfalls.

    Marnie on
  • @Jim Hoff, thank you so much! I’m always happy to pass on things I’ve learned.

    Marnie on
  • Marnie, I always enjoy reading your postings. Most of the time I learn some new.

    Jim Hoff on
  • Great Blog Marnie,

    I believe aggression one of our most animal responses as humans and it simply reflects that one ran out of ideas and that one feels helpless. Looks really bad on a person (been there, done that) let alone a company. I can imagine how much this will cost their pocket and most importantly their reputation. This also affects other companies as many people will stop posting or replying to posts as it might imply committing to something legally. As a small business owner, I could never blame not paying my creditors because my clients didn’t pay me. That is a completely different transaction and one is fully responsible for the things you commit to regardless. That only reflects poor business decisions and miscalculations relying on money you don’t even have.

    Thank you for sharing this great information. I directly benefit from it as a small business owner because it keeps me aware of the pitfalls of making poor decisions and aware of how I handle a customer’s request.


    David M. on

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