Demanding customers are not to be confused with abusive customers. When it comes to demanding customers, we’ve learned to listen to them, they almost always have a good lesson for you, if you’re willing to be patient and look at the larger picture.
The biggest difference between a demanding customer and an abusive one, is the demanding customer knows something can be better. Not necessarily that you can do it better, or should, but they have an idea about something, and will push you to learn about it.
For example, we recently had a customer who opened up a support ticket, letting us know a certain email security feature wasn’t working. Email worked, but it would show a warning with certain email providers. We looked at our setup, nothing was wrong. It worked. Over the next few days, our customer came back over and over, with new information, and pushing our support team to look.
A random check showed that a single line of code, in a file of thousands of lines, had been updated by a software vendor, with no changelog or documentation. Fixed!
It took our customer days of pushing and replying to their support ticket, to make the team review the email software code one by one. Our team had faith it was working right, and there were no errors, no known changes, and no updates had been made to it, as far as we knew. So when the team was working with this customer, there was some exasperation, it’s human nature.
The important thing in that interaction was trust, professionalism and perseverance. It’s very easy for anyone in that situation to become frustrated. On one side, there is clearly a problem. On the other side, there is no error, nothing is wrong. Imagine coming into work each day, and the same error kept being reported, with no ability to reproduce it so you can fix and test it afterwards.
From our customer’s point of view, they had to keep reporting the same problem over and over. That’s incredibly frustrating as a customer, because you’re paying for a service, and here you are, spending time, energy and effort into reporting this problem to your provider, but seeing no results. Frustration was clear, and tough, but our customer remained professional at all times. They were challenging us, and rightfully so.
From our perspective, this customer had to be reporting some problem that was only happening with them, on their setup. We couldn’t reproduce it, no matter how much we tried. Our software partners came back with the all-clear as well. Our tech team was getting extremely frustrated at the error being reported, but not being able to trace it at all. Frustration may be the wrong word. Exasperated is a better one in this case. The situation, while minor in the grand scheme of things, was a solid learning lesson for the team.
A tough, challenging customer is easy to miscast as a bad customer who will just want to cause problems within the team. It happens, some people are just like that. However, a challenging customer is taking their time to point out something is wrong within your infrastructure. They are essentially giving you a free quality assistance check, and making sure you know about it, and don’t simply shrug it off as a one-time thing.
The lesson we learned in this situation is to listen. Be patient. Dig. The customer took time out of their day to report a problem (a few times!), not many people will do that. Once a problem is identified, dig. There’s so many moving pieces to our infrastructure, it could have been anything. If one customer has this problem, there are hundreds who have it as well, but don’t report it.
Challenging customers are worth their weight in gold. Keep them with you, they will make your company and team much better for it.