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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Customer Service

Dear Sue: As the owner of a small business, I have always placed a high value on my customers. I bend over backwards to accommodate my customers, go the extra mile if a mistake has been made and know that the service we provide is the only thing that enables us to compete with the "big guys."


Many of my customers are like family to me; we've celebrated weddings, births and shared some bad times as well. I also have customers that are strictly business acquaintances, but don't feel they are treated any differently than those who are friends.

While I don't expect anything in return for the distance I will go to make things right, I do want to make sure that I am not being taken advantage of. Some of my customers expect more than others, and it seems as though those that are most demanding are the most difficult to please. One customer in particular has been getting on my nerves and I am beginning to think that all of the effort to please this person may not be worthwhile.

I know that all it takes is one unhappy customer to generate negative publicity about a business and I try to be careful, but I am wondering how far I should go to keep a customer. And at what point am I being taken advantage of? I haven't seen this issue addressed before and would appreciate your response.

-- Concerned about customers

Sue Says: No matter how hard you try, you may never be able to keep 100% of your customers satisfied. If the majority of your customers are satisfied with the service your provide and you know you did everything in your power to try to keep a customer happy, but he or she is disgruntled anyway, it may have nothing to do with you.

Some people will never be happy and some people look for problems and thrive on the attention they get from complaining. And there are simply some people who are just plain difficult.

However, the customer who complains may be doing you a favor because they are telling you the truth about their experience. Others may be unhappy without ever saying a word, and one day take their business someplace else. 

One of the best ways to determine if you are on course is to check in with your customers from time to time. Customer satisfaction surveys (especially if they are anonymous), a phone call to "check in" every now and then, and asking questions can keep you informed about your customer's real feelings. Doing these things are an important part of providing good service.

Petra Marquart, author of the book, The Power of Service: Keeping Customers for Life, says that keeping a high-maintenance customer is a decision that each company must make based on its own set of criteria. In other words, there is no blanket rule of thumb. When customers begin to cost more -- in time, energy, money and employee morale -- than they bring in, it is probably time to end the relationship. The reason it is difficult for most companies to make this very hard decision is because usually only one thing is taken into consideration, and that is money. 

When you balance in the other factors, Marquart says, the customer should come out on the positive end of the scale, no matter how slight, if the relationship is to survive. It comes down to a value question that we all need to ask about any relationship -- personal or professional. Are you better off with or without this person in your life or business? 

Dear Sue: I worked for a company for 6 years and received numerous awards and cash bonuses for my extra efforts. I never received even one promotion but continued to be a team player. However, I was very unhappy about not receiving a promotion, and eventually left the company.

I am currently working for a new company. I consider myself easy to get a long with, friendly and a leader, yet so far no promotion. It seems as though there is always someone in a position of power that doesn't like me. How can I make the right people like me and what do I need to do to make the right kind of impression?


Sue Says: Why do you assume people don't like you? Maybe you need to worry less about how well liked you are and focus more on how you come across. 

Without more information I may not be able to give you the answers you need. However, the people who can are the people you should be asking. Go directly to the decisions makers who determine your future and find out why you haven't been promoted and what you need to do to make it happen.

Until you let others know what you want and discover how to get it, you will always wonder why it isn't happening.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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