Bad Customers

Wondering whether to give your business to a company? Get on-line and do a little research. You’ll get perspectives from lots of folks who have. You can even ask questions.

Seems a little one-sided.

As a business owner, I wish I had a better way to determine whether I should work with a given individual or company. (If I look up reviews of a business on-line, it’ll give me the perspective of their customers—not their venders. That’s not what I need.)

Because there are bad, bad customers:

  • Buyers with no intention to pay. Some clients hire businesses to get work or products knowing they’ll never pay the bill. In a service business, once the work is done, it’s over. And most products aren’t repossess-able.
  • Serial offenders. These customers regularly over-purchase or over-promise. They may expect to be able to pay when the time comes, yet they never can. When one business cuts them off, they go to a new one until it wises up.
  • Bullies. These people threaten to sue if you pursue payment—even if there are no grounds. They hope the fear of litigation gets you to stop. They threaten to spread bad rumors about your company and put negative reviews about your business on-line if you turn them over to collections.
  • Abusers. These customers are verbally abusive. Perhaps they make offensive (sexual, sexist, ageist, racist, whatever) comments. Maybe they berate and belittle without cause. (Although I say there’s never a reason to berate and belittle.) Maybe both.

And some are a combination of one or more of the above.

These aren’t the customers I talked about from my bookstore days: People who could make it easier to serve them, but didn’t. These are a different animal entirely.

What can businesses do?

Companies have fewer options than consumers in determining whether to work with an entity:

  • Credit checks: It costs money for companies to check credit. Also, frequent credit checks look bad on credit reports, so few people authorize them unless they really must. (And why should they? Another company will give them what they want without a credit check.)
  • References: As with prospective employees, people and businesses don’t list references who’d say bad things.
  • Web sites: A few Web sites attempt to level the playing field: Rate My Customers, Blocked List, and Nasty Client. I haven’t used any of these. I think they need a lot more traction before they’re worth their monthly fees.

Most businesses gradually get better at detecting offenders before they bring them on as customers. But there’s got to be a better way.

Ideas?