When we work to help customers when they have problems, we build loyalty. You’ve heard before.

But when we work to help customers with their problems, we also teach them that is what we do. We help with problems. While this can certainly build loyalty, it also can create a dependency.

Pay attention to what is being taught. Will you do anything to keep their business or is there a line you will not cross.

All interactions with customers are teaching experiences. When we go beyond the call of duty with service, we are teaching the customer about our style. We are teaching the customer how we do things.

At the same time, we need to learn about the customer’s style. Some people always have problems. Some customers always need a change or a “favor” such as expedited shipping or longer payment terms. We need to learn something from every transaction with each customer.

The question then arises: At what point is enough, enough?

Ask yourself if you are you able to gain from the effort you put into “going the extra mile” with particular customers? Is it worth having a business which caters to “special needs” customers? Is it worth keeping that always problematic customer?

In some cases, it is. The customer who appreciates the extra effort and truly is loyal is a good customer to have. The customer who always needs needs something extra and is willing to pay extra for the effort and concessions, is worth it. Certainly entire businesses have been built on meeting the needs of difficult customers and those customers can be very lucrative.

However, if you can’t show that meeting those constant demands and last minute changes are off-set with increased sales and margins, there is a time to ‘fire’ a customer.

No, all the problems are not because of the economy. No, problem customers will not ‘get better’, they will always be problem customers.

Face this question with reality. Don’t make excuses. Protect the bottom line.

Some customers are not worth the extra trouble.

Some are.  The sole criteria is whether you profit by giving the added service.

Side note. I’m not talking about the one-time exceptions. We’ve all had weird situations. When Verizon dropped the ball with my long distance service, I needed to switch back to AT&T in a hurry. ATT&T made an exception and provided me with operable service within minutes. I won’t go back to Verizon. AT&T regained my business.

Again, don’t interpret this as a green light to give lousy service. The battle for long term success will be won by providing great service. It is often better to go the extra mile than to say ‘no’. But if the same customer places constant demands on you, evaluate the value of keeping that customer.

Chris Reich