Elite AgentOpinion

Who comes first: The customer or your team?

It’s a myth that all business is good business. Difficult clients can cost you time, money and sap your team’s enthusiasm for their job. Barry Plant Group’s Head of Strategic Growth Nigel O’Neil explains why, sometimes, the best thing to do is say goodbye.

“The customer is always right” is a mantra that has been around for more than a century. 

Retailers coined it in the early 1900s. 

It’s got a nice ring, it reassures customers they will be treated well but, when you think about it, it’s impractical and disempowers your team.

But, we also know the adage, “a satisfied customer will tell one other person about their experience, while a dissatisfied customer will tell 15 other people”. 

That makes an unhappy customer something to avoid at all costs.



So who should come first – your customer or your team?

Identifying who is at the core of your business success has never been more important.

As the world becomes more fragile and stability and security become crucial for your employees, they need to know you have their back.

If you want them to be effective, confident and productive as a team, they need to know you won’t throw them under the bus in favour of a difficult client who is worth a lot of money to the business.

When I led a large, diverse team spread across the Tasman, we had some high-value customers that contributed strongly to the business’s profitability.

One such customer was ‘Femi,’ who had a lot of accounts with the business.

I spent a day in each role in the business to better understand the challenges staff faced.

On this day, I was on the phones handling incoming customer calls when a sense of panic came across the team.

Femi was on the phone.

Intrigued, I took the call and soon appreciated why the team was reluctant to talk to her. 

She became abusive and demanded all types of changes to the way we ran our business.

I listened, tried to reason with her and, when multiple attempts to placate her and diffuse the situation were unsuccessful, I understood why this large customer was terrifying the team.

So, I calmly asked Femi to take her business elsewhere. 

She didn’t receive this request gracefully, but it earned thunderous applause when I hung up the phone.

The message to the team was clear – you are more important to me than the customers.

This action built the team’s trust in me.

The business didn’t miss a beat from losing the client, and profitability more than doubled, year-on-year, for the next three years.

The strength of your customer service offering comes from the confidence your team has in dealing with situations calmly and effectively.

If the team knows you have their back, then they will excel in their role, whether that’s sales, property management or administrative support. 

They are also less likely to hide or cover up problems that can, if left unaddressed, turn into significant issues. 

So what about the irate customer who is going to bad mouth your business? 

If you take the “the customer is always right” approach, you run the risk of your team bending to every whim and demand, adding to their workload, disrupting processes and costing your business efficiency.

You are likely to have a high staff churn rate.

Train your staff to politely push back when requests are unreasonable.

It is still possible to turn these people into advocates, but if it’s not, the time you have saved your customer service team can be spent on more client inquiry and delivering higher services.

This will create more advocates, drive repeat and referred business, and cancel the noise of distractors. 

Don’t be afraid to hand back listings where the vendor is unreasonable and you know, no matter how many hours are put in, you won’t meet their price expectations and your agent will be put under significant mental stress. 

Weed out the sub-standard properties on your rent roll and where the landlord won’t invest the money to fix them.

Have a line in the sand that your team understands and when vendors or landlords step over the line, back your team and politely move the bad business on. 

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