What to Do When a Customer is a Bully

BullyPressure to Change Your Procedures

Have you ever had a customer who tried to bully you? Chances are pretty good that you have. Sometimes, it doesn’t look like bullying. But think of what a bully does. He tries make you do something that you don’t want to do, like give him your lunch money. So really, any time a customer pressures you to do things outside your normal operating procedure, there is the potential of bullying going on.

If a customer is pressuring you to make concessions, what should you do? Well, I guess it depends on what kind of business you are running. Is your business weak-kneed and unsure of itself? Or do you do things a certain way for a reason, and know for a fact what your business ideals are?

Say a customer tries to get you to give him a serious discount on your standard rate. You may need to do some soul searching. On the one hand, you could really use the customer, he is big after all. On the other, you priced your rate where its at for a reason. If you bend on the rate here, you are going to erode your ability to charge it across the board. That’s just a fact. The question you need to ask yourself is whether you want to compete on price. If not, you need to be willing to say no to that big bully, err customer.

The Big Bully

Its funny. The classic view of the bully is the big, over-sized kid. It works the same way in business. More often than not it is those big customers that try to bully you around into making concessions. You feel more pressure to do so, because of their size.

It is a mistake to automatically assume that just because a customer is big that they are also ideal. In order to understand what makes an ideal customer for your business, you need to understand what your business stands for. What are the important things which your business lives by? If you “never cut corners” then you are just going to have to say no to the customer who is pressuring you to deliver a job in a time frame that is too short.

Realize Your Own Strength

So, the first thing you need to do to combat bullies is to realize your own strength. Ask yourself why you do things the way you do. Hopefully you have some good reasons. If not, spend some time developing some core beliefs on which your business is based. And read this article on The Three Selling Propositions. If you have good reasons for doing things a certain way, its going to be easier to say no to customers who try to pressure you into changing your business.

Spot the Bully

That’s the second thing. You need to be able to recognize a bully. In most cases, the customer is not going to come across as threatening. Instead, they are going to try to get you to do things differently. They may be just trying to get a better deal. Or perhaps they are in the market for a whole different provider, and you would be better off providing a referral. If you have set procedures and reasons for doing things, spotting these customers will be pretty easy. Any time a customer request would cause you to change the way you do business, you are dealing with a potential bully situation.

Let me reiterate something here. A bully situation doesn’t always mean you are dealing with a customer who is out to get you. In most cases, the customer will respect your decision to stick to your way of doing things. They aren’t trying to hurt you. They are just trying to find the right solution for their needs, and you may not be it. Lots of times, all the pressure you feel is your own fault. It is because you are not secure in what your business stands for, so you are willing to consider changing everything for the needs of one customer. Before you do that, make sure that the customer’s needs match up with what you provide.

Stand Up to the Bully

Once you know what you stand for and can spot a bully, its time to stand up for yourself. Yes, this can be scary at first. You may have to tell a big customer no. You may have to provide a counter-offer to a prospect when your gut is screaming that they won’t ever accept it. And once in awhile, you will just have to confront a customer and tell them that they are full of it.

The nice thing is, you aren’t going to end up with a black eye or a sonic wedgie. You may have to wave goodbye to a customer who you thought might be your ship coming in. Confrontation is never fun, in any form (for most of us), but by standing up to bullies you will make sure your business stays on the course you set out for it. Never let your plans get pushed around by people who don’t have your best interest in mind.

Your Story

I am interested to hear if you have ever had to say no to a big opportunity or if you have ever faced down a customer bully. Leave a comment below if you have.

Creative Commons License photo credit: trix0r

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Bradford Shimp is the publisher of All Biz Answers. He is also the co-creator of Idea Anglers, a place to see your ideas come to life through collaboration. Follow on Twitter @bradfordshimp. Let Bradford help you with your business – visit BroadRiverCreative.com


Bradford Shimp is the publisher of All Business Answers.

2 Responses to What to Do When a Customer is a Bully

  1. Josh says:

    This is great reminder. I especially like the reminder that most of the time the customer is not out to get you. I can think of a few times when I have tried to hire a freelancer or small business owner for a project that didn’t fit with their business model, I did it because I knew they were trust worthy and talented (and that they could use some business) so I had the sincerest of motives, thankfully they were level headed enough to decline.

    I also think that one thing that makes it easier to stand up to bullies is to look at the likely outcome of taking on the project. I have worked with outside contractors who were eager to take on the projects only to find the project falling apart halfway through. When asked they usually say “Well… this really isn’t within our core business we just thought it was something we could handle.” that almost never ends well.

    Thanks for the great post.
    .-= Josh´s last blog ..Start Your Engines | 5 Steps to Start Growing Your Business =-.

  2. [...] Or perhaps you spend so much time on one account you begin to neglect others. So not only are you being bullied by your customer, you are starting to lose your good standing with your other customers as [...]

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