Get Ready to Say ‘No’ to Some Customers



Every day, anti-vaxxers continue to spread disinformation only to end up gravely ill, or dead, while overrunning the scarce ICU capacity, burning out medical staffs, and taxing the limited resources of their local hospitals. It is beyond sad, not to mention completely avoidable, and still costing thousands of lives every month.

Interestingly enough, the ICU shortage is providing an early warning signal and an instructive model for businesses that are already beginning to feel the pain of too few workers to fully reopen, the lack of materials and supplies, a supply chain moving like quick-drying cement, and growing, unsatisfied demands from increasingly unhappy customers.

Think of the resource allocation problems of the Covid-19 wards as the canaries in the coal mine for the rest of us. Too many heedless patients, too few intensive care beds, medication shortages, time-consuming, ignorant efficacy disputes, and doctors and nurses working 12-hour shifts have all combined to adversely impact the levels of support and service in far too many facilities.

While the medical profession and the military are at least somewhat prepared for the rapid decision-making, unavoidable loss of life, and the constant tension of triaging and prioritizing the competing needs of sick, wounded and dying patients, most businesses aren’t.

While most business’s choices and challenges aren’t exactly life-threatening on a daily basis, for the vast bulk of their existences, the owners and managers of most of these firms – large and small – always believed that having demand for their products and services that far exceeded their ability to meet it in a timely and professional manner was a dream of a problem. They could hardly wait to have to worry about having too many customers. But that’s not the main constraint that they’re facing at the moment.

The world is different today. Car manufacturers that used to jam the pipelines and fill their dealers’ lots with excess inventory (“a loaded dealer is a loyal dealer”) are now struggling to even produce sufficient vehicles to fully support the bare minimum floor planning needs of dealers. The dealers are reluctant to take orders and deposits for cars that may never come. Vendors of large and expensive consumer electronics and appliances can’t honestly begin to offer their distributors and their clients even the most conservative estimates of availability. They’re all learning and hearing daily that customers don’t give a damn about their constraints and problems. They just want the goods. And, if you can’t deliver, they’re happy to go elsewhere as soon as they get a better offer. Or any offer.

So, time to face facts and start thinking about the biggest challenge you’re likely to have in the next year. Customer triage. Or, who gets the goods when there’s not enough to go around and what do you do when you can’t do it all? There have been plenty of articles written about retaining the right customers and “firing” the ones who aren’t, but the old rules don’t make a lot of sense in times like these. So, as you are trying to decide who among of your customers to placate and who you’re gonna have to piss off, here are some key considerations to keep in mind.

1. Don’t simply ask your salespeople for a short list of their favorite customers.

Even on their best days, their own agendas and priorities are rarely going to align with yours. They get paid by the sale and/or spiff, you’re in it for the long run. Take their suggestions with a grain of salt – trust but verify. Salespeople doing something on the side for their friends, families and even people paying them extra on the side aren’t doing you or your business any favors.

2. Don’t automatically take the highest bidders even if people paying premiums are increasingly common.

Apart from the serious risk of buyer’s remorse when these idiots paying huge premiums over the list prices for cars and other scarce luxury items come to their senses, you don’t want one-off buyers, you want long-term customers who will keep returning and keep buying from your company. You want the people who value the fact that you were willing to be there for them in a pinch rather than ones who just figured they could buy their way to the head of the line and don’t know you from Adam.

3. Don’t get misled by the web.

Just like politics, a lot of purchasing is local, and the Internet can really lead you astray because buyers can be from anywhere, but, if they’re remote, they’re a shaky foundation to build a future relationship on, especially for products and services which have a long tail of after-sale service and support revenue. As every startup quickly learns, having a small number of customers spread across cities, states, countries, and time zones is a complete nightmare for customer service and support. Great for bragging rights, bad as a practical matter for business.

4. Make it clear to the folks that you can’t accommodate at the moment that they’re on the list and you’re doing your best. 

As with every other aspect of your business, constant communication is critical and being fast and forthright makes a huge difference in terms of your continued connection to your best customers. Anyone who can read knows how tough and tight things are now and they’re probably dealing with variations of the same issues in their own lives. The truth only hurts when you don’t tell it.

5. Don’t think you’re in the clear because your products are digital rather than physical.

Sure, there’s pretty much zero cost in producing and distributing more digital copies of a software program, book or movie, but there are still risks in random scaling because you are going to have to deploy, implement, train and support users of these products. That’s going to tax your team and require rapid headcount growth, which in many cases is tougher and more costly than simply manufacturing more widgets.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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An open minded personality.. fun to be with, because of my positive vibes. God fearing, for without God I am nothing.. Moved with compassion when dealing with you, not selfish or self-centered...

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