Two Situations When You Should Not Negotiate With Customers

Serving customers sometimes feels like a negotiation.

A lot of times it starts with the phrase, "Let's see what we can do." A hotel guest might ask for a room upgrade and we see what we can do. A banking customer might complain about an overdraft fee and we see what we can do. Or, a restaurant patron might request a table with a view and, well, you get it.

There are a few times when we should never negotiate with customers. It can backfire, cause ill-will, or even jeopardize safety.

Here are two examples.

Situation #1: You Are Wrong

Some employees try to negotiate when either they or their company are clearly in the wrong. 

I recently stayed at a hotel for four nights while attending a conference. On my day of departure, I noticed a $25 resort fee tacked on to my bill for each night I had stayed. That made my bill $100 higher than expected!

This fee was a total surprise. It wasn't mentioned when I booked my room. It wasn't disclosed in the email confirmation I received. It wasn't even discussed when I checked in.

I quickly found myself in a negotiation when I approached the front desk to get the fee removed. 

The associate started at $0 by explaining the fee was standard practice. He adjusted his offer to $25 (one night waived) when I reminded him the fee wasn't disclosed. The associate wasn't empowered to go any further, so he needed to get his supervisor involved.

The supervisor adjusted the offer to $50. More back and forth. I finally had to pull out my trump card and threatened to report the fee to my credit card company as an unauthorized charge. The supervisor finally relented and waived the entire $100.

All of this negotiation was senseless. It wasted their time and mine. The associate and the supervisor both realized they were wrong, but stubbornly tried to negotiate. This only annoyed everyone involved.

Don't hide behind a nonsensical policy if you or your company are clearly in the wrong. Just smile, apologize, and fix it.


Situation #2: The Customer is Abusive

Some customers cross the line.

They yell, threaten, and curse. They try to intimidate employees into getting what they want. They make up stories and throw out wild accusations.

The owner of a small retail store had to confront this problem. A customer would regularly come in and complain about virtually anything. She spent a lot of money, but she also frequently returned what she bought. Any profit the store made was quickly erased by all of the extra time employees spent trying to placate her.

This customer put employees on edge. She was stressful to serve. Things finally came to a head one day when she started yelling at an employee over yet another perceived slight.

The store owner had to make a tough call. He pulled the customer aside and informed her that she was no longer welcome to shop there. 

The customer alternated between pleading her case and issuing threats, but the owner remained firm. He simply wouldn't tolerate a customer who abused his employees.

The employees were grateful for the store owner's actions. They respected him for not negotiating with the customer once she had crossed the line. Enough was enough.

The owner did the right thing. Negotiating with customers who cross the line can cause two problems. 

First, it usually makes the customers' behavior even worse. They see they are getting away with acting out, so they continue to push the envelope. In some cases, their behavior causes a genuine safety risk for employees.

The second problem is you can lose your employees' respect if you don't stand up for them. Nobody should have to put up with unwarranted abuse.


A Simple Fix

Many customer service professionals aren't empowered to work with a customer to solve a problem. They aren't given the resources or authority to negotiate even when they should.

Empowering employees can be tricky, but you can use this handy guide to confidently give your team more responsibility.