Your Nightmare Customer – A Special Halloween Article On Your Most Dangerous Customers

Halloween is the perfect time to talk about your nightmare customers. You’re probably thinking about the customers who are difficult to deal with. They are rude, belligerent and don’t seem to respect your people at all.

Maybe they are the customers who you just can’t seem to make happy. Their expectations are high, perhaps too high. Maybe they have  completely unreasonable expectations. I once had an owner of a Honda car dealership tell me a customer was unhappy because their Honda Civic wasn’t as fast as their neighbor’s Porsche. Talk about unrealistic expectations!

Maybe your nightmare customers are the ones who keep changing their orders, don’t pay their bills, won’t return your phone calls, etc., etc. They cause pain and frustration, and when they are really bad, can wreak havoc on your employees.

Or maybe the nightmare customer is one you don’t even know about. They don’t keep you up at night, because you have no idea they are there. But you should, because if you knew about them, you would be scared. They are the seemingly satisfied customers who never complain, seem to be happy, just never come back.

This is where I’ve seen many companies fail. They think their customers are happy simply because they never complain. Important: “No complaints” is not a sign of happiness.


What causes this? The experience you gave them was not bad enough to complain about, but not good enough to make them care about you, let alone come back. Often it is due to apathy. Our research indicates one of the top reasons customers don’t come back is because of employee apathy. The employee doesn’t seem to care. They don’t show any sense of urgency in taking care of problems or requests. And the problem is that the employee isn’t bad enough to complain about, but bad enough to make the customer think twice about coming back. The customer that experiences this lackluster level of service is what I refer to as a dangerous customer, and they can be your biggest nightmare.

The customers who constantly complain, have unreasonable expectations, don’t pay, argue with you, are rude, etc., are at least in your control. You get to choose whether you want to work with them, change their ways (which you probably can’t do) or introduce them to your competition. But the nightmare customer is silent. The old saying, “silent but deadly” comes to mind, because these silent customers can become the death of your business.

Here is how the nightmare plays out. You seem to have a flourishing business. You invest, you expand, you borrow—all the things that one traditionally does to grow a business. Then one day you notice a decline in sales. It doesn’t look like much. Next, you notice that you are losing more customers than usual—even more than you are taking on. Then you notice that you aren’t getting any new customers at all. Then you realize, you have a company, inventory, employees—and NO customers! You wake up in a cold sweat, relieved it was just a nightmare! 

There is a way to avoid this nightmare, and that is to find out if your customer is happy. How to do it? Simple feedback is the start. You must find out if your customers are happy—or not. Simple surveys like, “On a scale of one to five, with one being poor and five being excellent, how would you rate the ______?” Fill in the blank with service, customer service rep, salesperson, product, etc. Or the famous Net Promotor Score (NPS) question works well: “On a scale of zero to ten, what is the likelihood you would recommend us to your friends, family members or colleagues?”

And even if you get good feedback, don’t think that alone will get them to come back. While it’s a start, you still want to nurture the relationship. If the only time you ever talk to a customer is when their metaphorical wallet is in their hands, having a good product and customer service may still not be enough. What you do around and outside of the normal interactions, which include the sales and customer service experience, is what customers notice.

So, avoid the nightmare. You have some control over this. Make sure employees are trained to interact with customers appropriately. Not only are their attitudes important, but also their actions in how they respond to customers’ needs, questions and complaints. This is what moves the experience from the dangerous zone of mediocrity to something that makes customers appreciate you and want to return. Or another way of putting it, moving from a keep-you-up-at-night nightmare to a restful and comfortable night’s sleep!

The Tycoon Herald