Your Customers: Know when to hold them… Know when to fold them


By Joanie Ogg CTC, MCC

Aren’t we always looking for new business? Finding new customers is a core function for every travel professional entrepreneur looking to grow their customer base. Sometimes we put so much emphasis on acquiring new clients we forget to manage the ones we have. You probably think this article is going to be about keeping your good clients happy and loyal. Well it is in a sense, but I am going to come at it from a different angle. Sometimes we have to assess the situation and “know when to hold them and know when to fold them”. By fold I mean let them go…

Ask yourself these questions about those customers you think might fit into the “unsatisfying to do business with” category. If certain customers are not a good fit to your business, it might be time to reassess the business relationship.

1. How does the customer really make you feel when you communicate with them?

Let’s face it, a lot of your business decision comes down to your own intuition or as I prefer to call it you’re “gut feeling”. While we cannot run our businesses entirely on our emotions, we cannot forget that inner voice telling us that money cannot buy happiness.

You should not have to put up with someone who makes you miserable. If you see their number pop up on your caller-id and you want to ignore the call, that is a good sign that you may want to let them go. Instead of letting them drag you down, send them to your competitor.

I have to admit, I have done this and it felt so good! Many years ago when Tom and I were operating one of our store-front agencies we had a gentleman who would come in just about every other week asking us to research Amtrak fares and schedules between San Diego and Los Angeles. I believe the fare today is $36 dollars so backspace to 1986 and it might have been $17 dollars. Doing the math, you can see that spending an hour (I am not kidding) talking to him about the fare and schedule for a net commission of $1.70 was not worth the effort and frustration. The next time he came in to discuss his big trip, I told him we no longer sold Amtrak and that the agency a couple miles away specialized in Amtrak. He thanked us and went on his merry way. Now why would I torture a fellow agency owner by recommending he visit them? Well, they stole our manager from us a year before and let’s just say it was my way of payback. Instead of getting dragged down by customers who aren’t worth your time, don’t be afraid to decline their business or refer them to a competitor.

Spend your time and energy on the customers who are most energizing to work with. Often, customers who are good to work with will, in the long run, be more profitable for your business.

2. Can you change the way you work with the customer to improve the situation?

If you have a customer that was or is dissatisfied with the service you provided, try to uncover what their hot button is. If they were unhappy with the supplier’s service that you recommended, how do you handle that? Do you ignore it or reach out to the supplier on their behalf?

Taking the chance that the problem or situation they encountered will fade from their memory is highly unlikely. Research shows that it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved experience. Whether the situation is the fault of a vendor, your fault or that of Mother Nature, find out what the customer expects from you in order to remain your customer. Whatever the customer needs, find out if it’s worth it to your company to deliver it. If the requests are unreasonable or too time-intensive or too costly, the better choice might be to say goodbye to that customer and move on.

3. Is that customer preventing you from focusing on better yielding business?

Do you have a customer who is so high-maintenance and emotionally draining that you’re being held back from reaching out to better customers or expanding your marketing efforts? Could the time you spend trying to appease an unhappy customer be better spent on finding new customers?

In sales, we often think that finding a new customer is harder than keeping an existing customer happy, but some unhappy customers require more time and effort than they’re worth. If a customer is so challenging that he is preventing you from taking on other important tasks, then it’s time to reassess the relationship.

4. Can you afford to lose the customer?

We often hear about the 80-20 rule and how it applies to sales. In some cases it also applies the relationship between company and customer. It is normal if 20% of your customers cause 80% of your stress and grief. Not every customer experience is going to go perfectly smooth without any hiccups. Where it becomes worrisome is when that client holds you back from being productive and making time for your other customers. Spending too much time problem solving for a borderline profitable customer takes you away from managing a customer relationship with a profitable and pleasant customer.

Could your time be better spent deepening a relationship with one of your best customers, rather than running yourself ragged trying to keep that challenging customer satisfied? Sometimes you need to know when to quit and say “no” and “fold” the one who is not the right fit for your business. Your best relationships deserve your attention most of all, because they are the ones who will keep buying from you and keep referring you to others.