Everyone has customers who complain. Complaining customers tell you what you’ve done wrong and how you can improve.

If you measure customer value and decide to work to keep them happy, they will keep you in business.

That’s normal, but there are times when you measure customer value and see a need to part ways.

Some customers will complain and complain and complain. They never stop complaining. No matter what you do, they still complain. If you work too hard to keep these “pain-in-the-neck” customers happy, they can run you right out of business. At this point, there’s a need to measure customer value.

After all, pain-in-the-neck customers don’t want to be satisfied. They like being unsatisfied. They frustrate your staff and irritate your other customers. Measure customer value and you might find they are not worth keeping around.

Pain-in-the-neck customers are not normal. They are distracting and disturbing. And yet they do exist. (I’ll bet you can think of one or two right now.)

So what should you do when a pain-in-the-neck customer complains and complains and complains? How can you measure customer value and proceed accordingly?

1. Recognize that most complaining customers are not a pain in the neck. On average, about 2% of your customer base will complain, but only 2% of that 2% are truly nuts and call for you to measure customer value before proceeding. The rest of your complainers are legitimate customers with specific problems. Solve those problems quickly and you will regain their goodwill and repeat business, boosting their importance when you measure customer value.

2. If your customer is a persistent pain in the neck, your immediate focus should be damage control. Isolate a pain-in-the-neck customer away from your staff, your other customers and your brand.

One famous theme park uses conveniently located, air-conditioned, pastel-colored rooms first to isolate, and then care for, the occasional pain in the neck. In these rooms, specially trained staff soothe the savage customer with comfortable chairs, cool drinks, healthy snacks and calming music.

Only when pain-in-the-neck customers have regained their sanity are they released back into the park. In the meantime, these disturbing characters are removed from other customers, other staff members and from the colorful theme park itself.

3. When damage control does not work, protect your staff and limit your legal liability. If a pain in the neck uses threats, abusive language or makes potentially harmful gestures, immediately contact Security and let them work it out with your lawyers. That’s what Security and legal staff are for. Never let a pain in the neck create an unsafe or dangerous situation. Measure customer value and you will see it’s just not worth it in this scenario.

4. If a pain in the neck is not abusive, but remains persistently unhappy, unpleasant and disruptive, measure customer value. If the customer isn’t worth keeping, consider passing this special customer to your competition. Maybe they can do a better job.

One airline suffered with a pain in the neck who complained regularly and loudly. After trying to satisfy this person for years, the airline took the time to measure customer value and finally sent him a letter:

Dear Mr. Tan,

I understand from crew reports that you have been consistently displeased with the service received on our flights. Please accept my apologies. We are concerned for your happiness every time you travel.

However, as we appear unable to satisfy you despite our best efforts, may I recommend you contact one of the other airlines that flies to your frequent destinations? Attached is a list of telephone numbers for your convenience. Hopefully one of these companies will be more successful in providing the service that you seek.

Of course you are always welcome on our flights. And should you choose to fly with us again and enjoy the level of service we do provide, we will be happy to welcome you back on board.


Senior Manager of Customer Affairs

5. Finally, and most importantly, don’t let pain-in-the-neck customers take what they really want from you – which is more and more (and even more!) of your precious time and attention.

Note: Government organizations may not have the option of passing on pain-in-the-neck customers to another organization. In fact, to do so could amplify the problem. When a pain in the neck appears at a government counter, simply draw a line and limit the time.

Key Learning Points

It is okay to measure customer value and cut some people loose. If a pain-in-the-neck customer throws a tantrum on your floor, do what you can to appease him, but if necessary, measure customer value. If it doesn’t add up, show him the door.

Action Steps To Measure Customer Value

Review this principle with your managers and staff. Let everyone rant for two minutes about your pain-in-the-neck customers. (Everyone knows who they are.) Then stop wasting your time and measure customer value. Limit the attention you give away (getting nothing in return). Decide what you will and will not do when a pain in the neck keeps complaining. Set criteria to measure customer value and learn to refer out those who simply harm your business.

News Reporter