Eric Karjaluoto

Your Most Dangerous Customer

My timing was good. We were already off Burnaby Mountain when my back wheel blew. Actually, my timing was great. There was a bike shop just a block away.

I was in this store a few weeks earlier, looking for a decent bike for my wife. The fellow there was pleasant, and showed me the new models due to arrive.

Upon fixing the tube, the mechanic noted some other problems with my bike. Specifically: my stretched chain. It needed replacement before it damaged the sprocket cassette (a more expensive fix).

I typically use another bike shop, but the guy won me over with how friendly he was. I rode off, with my now inflated tire—and returned a week later for the chain repair. They needed a few days to make the fix, so, I left the bike with them.

Getting to that shop isn’t convenient for me. But, I had a brief opportunity to pick up the bike—if I rushed. So, I drove fast, and snuck in the door just 5 minutes before closing. The shopkeep (someone I hadn’t met until today) was not pleased. He was in a rush, had cashed out, and didn’t want to deal with me.

I apologized. I didn’t know what his hurry was, but he was under some stress. I tried to problem-solve, “Listen—I don’t want to put you out, here. What if I give you my credit card number? You can run it tomorrow. That way you don’t need to re-open the till.” He rolled his eyes and said that couldn’t work. Instead, he scurried downstairs to get the bike, and came back in a huff.

The mechanic who had since left, had written some notes on service tag. The fellow processing the payment barked these at me. I nodded and agreed. This went on for a bit. Eventually, I didn’t feel as sympathetic.

Sure, he was in a rush, but it still wasn’t 6:00. If the sign on the door says the shop’s open until 6:00, I figure the staff should be prepared for that.

Although the process only took a few moments, each one dragged. This guy was so pissed off at me—and I just wanted out of the place. Once done, I looked at my watch. It was 6:00.

As I left the shop, I apologized once again for holding him up. For all the fuss, he must have had something awfully important to do. Although I hadn’t intended to, I must have screwed up his plans. Calmer, now, he responded, “I like to catch the early bus. This means I have to wait for the next one.”

All his frustration boiled down to waiting a few minutes for a bus. Wow.

I didn’t say anything negative. I didn’t complain about him making an issue out of so little. I didn’t call his manager to talk about the experience.

Instead, I nodded and smiled. I knew I’d never go back.

That was last November. Spring sprung early in Vancouver, and it’s now time to buy my wife’s new bike. That guy’s desire to catch an early bus cost his boss $2,000. (Not to mention bikes and helmets for our kids, occasional bits-and-bobs, and inevitable repairs.)

Customers who complain might seem like a nuisance. In actuality, they’re easy. Acknowledge their concern, show empathy, and find a way to resolve the problem. No big deal. If you do this well, you might even turn them into more loyal customers.

It’s those customers who don’t complain that you need to worry about. Sure, advertising can get new people through your front door. But, it takes a lot of ad dollars to make up for the loss of a customer you already had.

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