Herb Kelleher: “Dear Mrs. Crabapple, We will miss you.”
Southwest Airlines is a paragon of superlative customer service. Southwest’s happy and engaged employees routinely go out of their way to delight their customers. In spite of such remarkable devotion to customer satisfaction, there have been times when Southwest had to decide that some customers were just wrong for their business.
In the very entertaining and enlightening Nuts!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success, authors Kevin and Jackie Freiberg narrate how Southwest had to let go of a customer who couldn’t be less satisfied with her travel experience. This customer relations-story is best appreciated in light of the fun-loving and gregarious nature of Southwest’s legendary founder and ex-Chairman/CEO Herb Kelleher.
A woman who frequently flew on Southwest, was constantly disappointed with every aspect of the company’s operation. In fact, she became known as the “Pen Pal” because after every flight she wrote in with a complaint.
She didn’t like the fact that the company didn’t assign seats; she didn’t like the absence of a first-class section; she didn’t like not having a meal in flight; she didn’t like Southwest’s boarding procedure; she didn’t like the flight attendants’ sporty uniforms and the casual atmosphere.
Her last letter, reciting a litany of complaints, momentarily stumped Southwest’s customer relations people. They bumped it up to Herb’s desk, with a note: ‘This one’s yours.’
In sixty seconds, Kelleher wrote back and said, ‘Dear Mrs. Crabapple, We will miss you. Love, Herb.’
Bad Customers: Wrong for Your Business, Wrong for Your Employees
Customers are the lifeblood of any business. Customer satisfaction begets loyalty, and loyalty begets revenues and profits. Businesses can therefore never place too much emphasis on their customers.
Although your business may need all its customers—even the irksome ones—the reality is that some customers can actually be bad for your business. You can’t sustainably run a business without trying to satisfy every customer—particularly those cranky, annoying, or unreasonable ones.
Be wary of customers that fall into these categories:
- Customers who require high maintenance but cannot be charged more
- Customers whose demand for price destroys your profitability
- Customers who want a lot more (better product, better service, better schedule) but are tightfisted
- Customers who require supplementary services or products (especially those that are not part of your business’s core competencies) and tailored solutions that you don’t provide and can’t profitably offer to the rest of your customer base
- Customers who don’t subscribe into the future vision of your business or your industry, which they’ll need to strategically commit to as some point in the future
- Customers who tend to be aggressive and hostile, and disrespectful to your employees, regardless of how well they serve the customers
Strategic Customer Management Involves Being Tough Minded with Some Customers
Considering your long-term business goals, sifting through who should and who shouldn’t be your customers is an important element of strategic leadership.
With every product or service you offer, focus on who you want your customer to be, what expectations they have of you, and what you can profitably provide to them. Once you have figured that out, customers who don’t fit well need to be managed judiciously and decisively.
Without strategic customer management, you run a risk of disrupting your ability to converge around the needs of your principal customer base.
Idea for Impact: Let Go of Some of Your Troublesome Customers
Sometimes, it may be better to lose certain customers by turning them down than to dilute your ability to serve other valuable customers profitably. Stop trying to delight every customer. Take a hard look at the past, current, and future of every customer and prioritize whom you can going to serve better and more successfully.