Feature Article - September 2005
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A Field Guide to Patrons

Tips for keeping customers happy

You'll spot the High-Maintenance Customer because, well, they make themselves pretty well known around the place. You may know them by name, or if not, you will soon. But what to do about them?

In general, a little extra attention goes a long way with these customers.

"If you stroke them and schmooze them, they'll be so happy, that they'll soon be

your low-maintenance customer," Soisson says.

You could even go to the extent of letting those customers know you know they're high-maintenance.

"Pat yourself on the back in front of them," Soisson says. For example, after asking for five things upon arriving at your facility, follow up with them, make sure all requests were met and conclude with a "Great. I'm so glad we got everything done for you."

Specifically identifying your potential high-maintenance customers can bestow great rewards. It may sound morally improper, but good business sense says that the customers who spend more are worth the extra TLC because they'll continue to spend more.

"We've done a disservice to paint the picture that we treat all customers equally," Griffin says. "There are some customers who, based on their buying history, have earned their way to a certain level. High-maintenance may be absolutely acceptable if that customer falls into the appropriate high-profit category."

If you're running a campground, for example, and a certain, get-me-this-get-me-that family has been spending its summer vacations with you for the past nine years, reserving several sites and buying all their groceries at your general store, then maybe a little bonus here and there is warranted.

Rather than disregard or even poke fun at these customers, take the time to get to know them better and view your facility from their perspective: If you were spending a lot of money somewhere and spending often, you might expect, at the very least, the best customer service possible. Griffin suggests creating a way to tier your services that actually accommodates these customers without losing money on them.

"If a customer wants additional benefits, they can pay for them because they're in that category, and they've earned their way in," she explains. New customers might have the option to buy their way into the higher category.

"Shrewd business operators have figured this out," Griffin says. She offers the example of a major casino chain that consistently receives more requests for hotel rooms than they can satisfy. The company also has realized that it's not selling hotel rooms, it's selling access to its gambling facility.

"They can pinpoint, through gambling history, whether the customer is appropriate to make a reservation for," she explains. So, before sending your high-maintenance customers to the dog house, consider giving them that extra treat after all.

Top 10 Steps to Top-Notch Service
  1. When you feel a difficult situation coming, take a deep breath.
  2. Give the customer the benefit of the doubt.
  3. Listen to what the person is trying to tell you.
  4. Acknowledge the issue the customer has raised.
  5. Offer your help to resolve the issue.
  6. If the customer is angry, offer somewhere to speak privately (unless your safety is compromised).
  7. Respect the customer and expect the customer's respect.
  8. Remember that silence is a powerful tool.
  9. If the customer gets abusive, end the discussion diplomatically.
  10. After-the-fact, discuss the situation with peers and superiors: what went well or wrong.