Enemy – Can your customer be your enemy? This question came to mind recently when we had an experience at an up market coffee house in Upperhill one early morning. We had a group breakfast meeting at 7:00am Saturday morning and in good time keeping fashion, my group mate Makena and I arrived at 6:55am and stood in the parking lot catching up. Whilst there, two ladies walked past us, pushed open the swinging doors to the coffee house that were closed, got in and closed the doors behind them. At 7:00am we decided to wait inside the café for the rest of the members. On pushing open the same swinging doors, the two ladies were struggling to open the main door to the café. One looked up, saw us and said in quite a hostile voice “We are NOT open yet”.  No greetings, no acknowledgement, no request to find out what we wanted, just a cold piece of information about their not being open. To which I looked at my watch, pointed to their prominent well branded piece of signage outside the gate and said “Your signage indicates you open from 7:00am and it is 7:00am now?” 
The two ladies looked at each other and one asked her colleague in what I can describe as a bothered demeanor “Sasa tutafanya nini?”(Now what are we going to do?) At which point Makena who had been watching this interaction unfold quickly proposed we leave immediately and relocate to an adjacent coffee house down the same road. We got back into our cars, called up the rest of the members and shifted venue. Needless to say that by 7:05am when we got in, this coffee house was already open the heavenly smell of coffee brewing in place, staff ready at our service, warm and welcoming. We did have a good breakfast meeting, albeit in rather tight circumstances because of the booth arrangement seating style, but a ‘happy tight’. The conclusion here is pretty obvious, the group decided to abandon any further attempt to meet at the former café where we had met once before and permanently relocate our weekly meeting venue to this other café which despite its lack of space convenient to group meetings, has excellent service.
This experience begs one question – Can your customer be your enemy? Can the people you get up in the morning to come to work to render service to, sell goods to or manufacture products for, be your enemy? For all sense and purposes, how as the driver of business can the customer be the enemy? Does this make for business wisdom in your books?
Whilst it doesn’t, many of us in the workplace regard that complaining customer as the enemy. The much dreaded enemy! Especially the loud, brash, agitated customer who is making no secret of their unhappiness with your product or service and making no attempts to hide their dissatisfaction. The same question comes up again – Is this your enemy? In our Saturday morning experience, we were the enemy. We had come to inconvenience the unprepared staff and were not fitting in their late opening plan. The result – the enemy went away never to return. Whose win?
Sunny Bindra in his book ‘Crown Your Customer’ which is a recommended reading for all who value customers as the drivers of business says ‘Embrace the complaining customer for this is your organizations greatest friend’. And while this may sound like a paradox, isn’t it really real that the customer that complains the most and the loudest is your greatest asset? It is said that one unhappy customer with a bad customer experience tells a minimum of twenty three other people. And that each version of the story morphs into an even more dramatic and graphical embellishment of the original story. Imagine the spiral dynamo effect of this situation. 
The unhappy customer at your doorstep, whom you give the opportunity to lash out and express what they are unhappy about and to give you feedback from the customer experience, is your greatest friend. For starters, if the customer has emptied what they want to vent about to you and they feel they have been adequately listened to and appreciated for the feedback they are giving, the likelihood of having this story told to several other people with different more customized versions is greatly reduced. And because stories often must be told, you at least have the advantage of having the end of that story sound like this “and I told off the supervisor and told them how I feel and how I would not stand for such bad customer service and they promised they would do something about it” Everyone loves to be a hero and the complainant will definitely want to show off about how much noise they made about what they were unhappy about and how this noise translated into action. The beauty of this is the subtle message in that communication that your institution or business is one that listens and takes action. And although this may not be the ideal communication messaging that our Pubic Relations firms would jump on as top level PR strategy to project an institution in favourable light, it does work the magic, for word of mouth is the most powerful customer communication tool and if the complainant is concluding that action was taken, then you have won the war.
Now picture the same scenario. We’ve arrived at the coffee shop early Saturday morning, the ladies are caught off guard, not ready and the shop not open. Says one of them to us “Oh hello there, come right in. I’m so sorry you’ve found us running late, we should be open by now but we have just come in. Would you mind having a seat here inside and giving us a few minutes to set up and we will be with you shortly?” I leave the outcome of this interaction to your imagination……………..
So…….. Can we convert enemy number one into ally number one? Can we switch our business thinking and our mindsets at all levels of the company hierarchy to look at that bellowing, frothing, hyperventilating customer, throwing verbal bombshells, barbs and heavily worded missiles at us a friend? I challenge you to take up this strategy. Put on your armor and take up your sword and when the next angry customer comes your way, imagine the words ‘ally number one’ written on their forehead. As you listen to them, and attempt to resolve their issue, I promise you will be much calmer and desist from responding out of line if your thoughts are aligned to seeing the forcefully charging enemy as your best friend, buddy, chum and pal.

I wish you an enemy free month ahead and by all means, grab that opportunity and run towards the angriest client you can see. Scary isn’t it?