Vampire customers exist in every organization.
You know the ones — the ones that are excessively needy, that are overly demanding, and that can often be downright unpleasant.
In short, the ones that suck the life out of your team.
If your organization is like most, then I’m willing to bet that a small handful of “problem” customers are responsible for the majority of your service challenges. It’s the principle of the 80/20 rule, but in customer service, it’s usually closer to the 95/5 rule or the 98/2 rule.
A very small number of customers create a great majority of the serious issues.
Worse, these vampire customers are often not only unprofitable and demoralizing but also hog organizational resources and negatively impact the service you deliver to your best customers.
Your organization and team can benefit greatly from identifying your vampire customers and coming up with a strategy for lessening their impact on your other customers, your team’s morale, and your bottom line.
However, before addressing these customers, you first need to know why you have them in the first place.
While I believe deeply in the power of positive language to shape how we approach our customers (for instance, I think it is important to “work with” customers instead of “deal with” them), we also have to be realists that challenging customers come to us with a variety of different personalities and issues, not all of which are manageable.
Perhaps we caused the difficulty. Perhaps it escalated over time. Perhaps the customer was a jerk from the get-go. Once you identify the customers that are draining your team, you want to ask one fundamental question:
Why is this relationship a challenge?
It is important to know how much of the issue comes from the organization and how much from the customer. Look at the customer’s history, evaluate your team’s analysis of the issue, and try to figure out the root causes.
It is also important to be as detached and objective as possible. If someone is on your team’s list of vampire customers, they likely already have a lot of negative emotions associated with them within the organization.
Of course, the analysis is usually much more nuanced than an either/or, his fault/our fault proposition. Confluences of events, bad personality matches and other contributory factors can all be at the heart of serious customer challenges.
The point of the analysis is not to assign blame; it is to understand the nature of the challenge so that you can understand what, if any, resolution is possible.
However, once you feel you understand the causes of the issue, you have a decision to make.
The fundamental question you must ask when evaluating vampire customers is as follows:
Is this customer such a drain on resources that you would rather not have their business than continue the relationship in its current form?
While the question seems simple on its surface, there are always other considerations. How big is this account? How important is this person in our industry? How much more publicly will they share their anger if we disengage from them?
Additionally, you have to be careful to distinguish vampire customers from challenging customers. Any set of customers will have a small subset that takes a disproportionate share of resources.
With proper customer service training, you can work with these customers to improve their experiences and to mitigate their impact on your team.
Vampire customers, on the other hand, are the ones that are unprofitable, unresolvable or so deleterious to employee morale that it simply makes no sense to continue the relationship in its current form.
Once you know that a customer is essentially a net negative for your organization, you have three basic options:
Your customer is stuck on a road of bad experiences, combative interactions, and habitual frustration; if the customer has the potential to be a truly happy customer, you might need to go the extra, extra mile (hopefully, you’re already going the extra mile) to break the cycle they are in.
Try bringing in a fresh team member, taking a different approach, or changing communication strategies. There are some great tips and techniques in Part 8 of Be Your Customer’s Hero for working with difficult customer situations and achieving a positive resolution.
I remember reading a piece about movie stars once. The author posited that some actors maintained power in Hollywood by saying no, others by saying yes, and others by saying maybe.
Similarly, different customers have learned differing lessons about how best to get what they want.
Some customers have learned that being courteous and nice is the best way to get what they want. Others have learned that being rude or bullying is best. The latter customers will often test you until you finally step in and put a stop to it.
These relationships can sometimes be turned around, but it often takes drawing clear lines and setting firm expectations to reset the relationship into something that is mutually beneficial.
Draw the line as clearly and professionally as you can and let them decide which side of the line they want to be on.
Terminating a customer relationship is never easy; in fact, sometimes you even have to say goodbye to customers that are “great” financially but that are too damaging in other ways.
If you do decide to move on from a customers, make the conversation about your inability to serve them in a way that will make them happy. Approach the discussion from the perspective of how your business is just not setup to provide the service they are looking for and give examples of how this applies to them when possible.
No matter how they react, you don’t want to make your final communication about them and their behavior. Focus on the fact that you only want to keep them as a customer if you can deliver an excellent customer experience consistently for them, and that it’s obvious that you are unable to do that.
In some cases, they may lighten up, but if not, you and your team can move on having made sure that the last words you spoke on the topic were professional and focused on the customer’s needs not the customer’s history.
Ridding your organization of vampire customers is not a process with a defined end. In fact, you can never completely eliminate this dynamic from your customer service; however, if you can identify and address the customers who are sucking the energy out of your organization, you can go a long way towards improving team morale and freeing up more time for the customers that energize and motivate your team!
By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.