How to Turn the Customer from Hell into an All-Star

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship / July 11, 2014


“Why the hell isn’t this project done?!”

“I’m going to initiate a chargeback on all the money we’ve paid you for the last year, since you can’t get this done.”

Our customer was angry.
He felt we weren’t doing our jobs.

Except for one problem.

Our customer was the reason his project wasn’t done. We had spent the last 2 months chasing him around, desperately trying to get the materials and approval we needed to finish his project.

He worked to sabotage his project.
Then complained that we weren’t getting things done.

He was the customer from hell.

If we wanted to save the relationship, we needed to turn our customer into an all-star.

In part 1, we talked about why it’s so important to recognize the customer from hell. If we wanted to avoid them, we needed to be able to see their behavior for what it was.

So why would anyone want to save their relationship with the customer from hell when we just talked about avoiding them?

Because bad customers aren’t created equal.

When it comes to rehabilitation, there’s two types of bad customers.

  1. The customer that’s willing to change.
  2. The customer that’s not willing to change.

Encouraging difficult customers to become all-stars is important because it eliminates the vast majority of the headaches and expense they create for your business.

It’s also cheaper to keep a paying customer than it is to try and win a new one. That’s important if you’ve got more than your fair share of nightmare customers.

Because conversion works best when there’s an incentive.

Neither one will make the effort to change their behavior without an incentive. And why should they? If treating you poorly means they continue to get all of the things they want, most of them will do it.

Your customers from hell need to self identify.

Asking them rarely works, since most of them will either avoid the question or tell you what you want to hear. No, you’ll need to use their behavior to identify the ones you keep and the ones you cut loose.

But how?

You create an environment that rewards the behaviors you want.

Rewarding the behaviors you want means you’ll need to make some changes in your business. Dysfunctional customers know which buttons to push. They know you’re afraid of losing them. They can smell desperation and they know when you “need the money”.

See also  The Secret to Entrepreneurial Happiness

If they can manipulate you, they’re in control.

Which means you’ll need to control your environment.

The right environment keeps you in control; it keeps the focus on solving your customer’s problems. But your customers have very specific cards they can play to get what they want.

1. Getting emotional

Customers from hell use emotion as a delivery tool to get what they want. They’ll use the four horsemen — guilt, shame, fear and anger to send message.

Your product wasn’t what they expected? They’ll throw a tantrum.

Asked for a product they couldn’t afford? They’ll use guilt trips to get a refund.

They think you’re beneath them? They’ll use shame to keep you there.

2. Their leverage against you

Customers looove to use your competitors as leverage. “Yeah, well XYZ corp. gave me a quote that’s 30% less. Can you price match?”.

The horrible part?

We know what they’re doing and we hate it, but most of the time we play their game.

3. Your uniqueness is missing

Most of us have a hard time telling identical twins apart. Customers find themselves in the same position when you’re missing uniqueness. So they rely on their fall back.


They’ll use your price as leverage against another competitor in an effort to get the best deal. But they’re clueless when it comes to choosing what’s best for them.

See the problem? These three areas belong to you. Lose control over these areas and the symptoms get worse as the problem gets bigger.

Here’s how you use these three areas to convert a customer from hell.

1. Work with emotion.

Create boundaries, policies and systems ahead of time, when you’re not in an emotional situation. Map out the things you need to do to get the behavior you want.

Planning this out ahead of time is great because it gives you something to fall back on. You can empathize with a customer, listen when they’re angry and cry with them when they’re hurt – without hurting your business.

See also  How Much Does a Subway Franchise Owner Make?

If you do decide to make an exception for a customer, the planning you did ahead of time will tell you how far you can go and how you can help. If customers get abusive, you know how to protect yourself.

2. Create leverage of your own

It’s really common for businesses to spend their time consulting with anyone that looks like a potential customer. They give each of them one-on-one attention in hopes of winning the sale. It’s exhausting and it never seems to be enough.

Leverage gives you the ability to market your business all day, every day without you needing to be involved. It could be an app, book or newsletter. It can be free or paid. It can be the product itself or a bait piece that points to the real product.

When it’s done right, leverage gives you lots of leads. Why is that important?

It gives you the ability to say No.

It’s easy to say no to a dysfunctional customer when you have 10 customers waiting to replace him. That puts you in a position of strength. You don’t have to grovel or beg for business when you’re in-demand.

3. Creating uniqueness

When you’re unique, you’re one of a kind.

Your uniqueness should be something your customers value, but can only get from you. Because it’s the one thing that makes you special. When it’s done right, this kind of uniqueness creates respect. It encourages loyalty. If your customers leave you, they lose your uniqueness – something they value but can’t replace.

Here are a few examples.

  • Domino’s Pizza: You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or lessóor it’s free!
  • M&M’s: Melts in your mouth, not in your hand
  • FedEx: When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.

Do it right and price isn’t the main focus anymore.

Creating the right environment sends the message that you’re special, unique and in-demand. It gives each of your customers a powerful incentive to behave because it sends an implied message. They need you more than you need them.

What happens when you can’t convert the customer from hell?

Remember the two types of bad customers we mentioned earlier? The stuff we’ve talked about work on those that are open to change. If you’ve created the right environment in your business they’ll change their behavior.

See also  8 Ways To Stop Holding Yourself Back & Start Getting The Income You Deserve

Those that aren’t open to change will need your help to leave, or they’ll leave on their own.

Expect their behavior to get worse before it gets better.

These customers may feel cornered. You’ve taken them out of their comfort zone, the place where they get what they want. That usually means their bad behavior is about to get worse as they fight to regain control. Stick with the changes you’ve made and it’ll pay off in the end. Distance yourself from customers who show they’re unwilling to change.

What if they become an all-star but they don’t stay that way?

If you’ve created the right environment that shouldn’t be an issue. Take a closer look at your environment if you notice some of your customers are misbehaving.

Have things been slipping? Have customers been allowed to get away with more than they should have? Are customers not being taken care of?

Ask the questions you need to ask to get the results you’re looking for. Have things gone off track a bit? Find out why. Getting things back on track is much easier when you understand the problem.

Turn your customer from hell into an all-star.

Saving your relationship with a difficult customer can be done. With the right environment and a willingness to change, your customer from hell can become your all-star.

In part 3, we’ll show you how to keep the customer from hell out of your business, automatically.

In the mean time, I want to hear about your customer from hell. Did you stick with them or show them the door?

Andrew McDermott is the co-author of Hook:Why Websites Fail to Make Money and co-founder of His Free 5 day mini course shows entrepreneurs how to fix website failure and attract customers automatically.

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.


Get Funded Faster!

Proven Pitch Deck

Signup for our newsletter to get access to our proven pitch deck template.