Allen Harris: The customer isn’t always right | Business

Should a server at a restaurant have to tolerate casual misogynistic and racist comments because the owner says they’re “good customers?” Of course not, columnist Allen Harris says.

I fired two clients, and maybe you should, too.

Given the length of this column, I had to choose between the opportunity to tell you how to break up with a customer or give you a “permission” to do so. I concluded that if given the right tools to get rid of a troubling customer, some business owners still may not do so. It feels like a violation of that tried-and-not-so-true rule that “the customer is always right.”

A co-worker at Berkshire Money Management confided in me about a past work experience. She used to be a waitress at a now-closed restaurant in the Southern Berkshires. A family who frequented the establishment was known for their casual misogynistic and racist comments. When she asked the owner, her boss, what should be done about it, he told her to let them be — they’re “good” customers. But were they? The owner measured “good” based on revenue, but there are more vital metrics here?

Sometimes a customer’s behavior is not that obvious or constant. Nonetheless, it’s detrimental to keep clients just because they put money in the cash register. Tolerating an ill-behaved customer demoralizes the team, shows that you won’t support them, and ultimately nudges them toward quitting.

I emailed my BMM’ers to notify them that I two released clients who did not value people they perceived to be lower on the organization chart. The clients condescended a co-worker because their grammar made them seem too familiar (which is another way of saying “too friendly for someone not as rich as us.”). Below is that email (except I didn’t say “fudge.”).

“Subject: I fired some clients, and here’s why…

On Thursday, April 14, we fired two clients — a husband and a wife. I wish to share with you why I did so. It is important to me and to the culture of BMM that we all enjoy working at BMM and are supportive of one another. It is also important that each of us do what we can protect the other. To that end, I fired the clients for rudely calling one of us unprofessional. The accusation wasn’t made constructively. It was done condescendingly. Fudge them!

The clients called one of us “unprofessional,” like it was a BAD thing! Listen, we ARE unprofessional. Have you seen the way I dress?! What the heck, right? And on social media, I am totally an Elon Musk wanna-be, LOL!

We have dogs and cats running around the office. We have the biggest bar of any non-restaurant in the county. We take the day off to hunt Easter Eggs. We do CrossFit in the parking lot. The owner calls out racists live on the radio. Not a day goes by where I don’t hear some quote from an Austin Powers or Adam Sandler movie or something like that.

And I wouldn’t want it any other way! We can do serious work for our clients while simultaneously not taking ourselves too seriously.

There is a saying, ‘that’s why they call it work.’ It’s meant to explain that doing your job isn’t supposed to be fun. That’s 1970s thinking. You spend almost one-third of your life at this office. Have fun. Be playful. Be friends with one another.

If a client is rude to an employee — like these clients were — they take away the fun. So, we needed to get rid of them. And I did. I fired them. I’ll keep trying to support and protect you. I promise. I ask that you join me and always support and protect each other.

No one here is above helping or supporting other BMM members. Maybe (co-founder) Stacey and I are lazy about our parking spots, but nobody here is “above” anyone else. This job is more fun (and we do better work for our clients) when we treat each other with kindness, compassion, and understanding. Yes, I brought each of you on because you had a skill set or thought you could be taught one. That’s necessary. However, it’s also necessary that we treat each other as friends. As equals. To be inviting so that people WANT to come to you and be in your sphere and ask for help, advice, or just to talk and take a break. After all, we’re not just a team; we’re a family.

I know how cliché that is nowadays. Let’s prove that it’s not just a cliché and always be supportive and protective of the others here. That’s part of the job. Just as it’s my job to fire clients or vendors that don’t do the same. I got your back. Thank you for having each other’s.”

That restaurant owner could have found the tools to kick out those repugnant customers. But something stopped him. Maybe he was afraid of making a scene. Perhaps he was being short-sighted about retaining employees. One way or another, he thought it would be detrimental to business. He was wrong. Firing bad customers is good for business.

I mentioned this situation on my LinkedIn page, resulting in 24,693 impressions. Every acknowledgment was supportive. Using LinkedIn’s demographic tools, the people this reached were business owners, account executives, presidents of corporations, and chief executive officers. Viewers were from reputable local employers such as General Dynamics, SABIC, and Berkshire Health Systems, to name a few.

While it wasn’t a calculated move on my part, the results should make you feel safe about firing lousy customers. Setting aside the benefits of supporting your team for a moment, what do you think is more valuable — two clients or 24,693 potential new clients, employees, and supporters?


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