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Spend Time with Your Best Customers

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I will always remember the day Nick Bicker crossed the line. That’s not his real last name, but it fits him. As a general rule, I believe in the motto, “The customer is always right.” But on this day, the customer was wrong. Nick Bicker was wrong and I let him know it.

Nick was one of those people who complained about everything: The weather, the price of gas, his wife, and of course, the work I did on his car. The job was never done right and the price—you guessed it—way too high. He would argue with me before I started the job and again when he picked up the car.

I disregarded most of what Nick said, but then one day, he crossed the line. After giving Nick the invoice total for a repair, he reached in his wallet, crumpled up dollar bill after dollar bill and threw the money at me. “Take my money, take the damn money!” he said as he threw the cash at me.

At this point, I had enough. I stared at him for a few seconds. Then I said, “Nick, you have gone too far. I don’t take anyone’s money. I earned that money. For some reason, I can never please you. You don’t seem to value me or the work I do, either. Please don’t treat me like this again.”

Nick didn’t say a word and left. He didn’t take the money either. After that situation, I was on the lookout for customers like Nick. I would mentally prepare myself, trained my mind to act fast and stand up for myself. No one would ever treat me that way again. At the slightest hint of an issue, I would let the customer know exactly how I felt.

THINKSTOCKThere’s a problem with strategy.

I was developing a hardened shell, and focused only on the problem customers. It wasn’t long before it was hard for me to recognize the good customers from the bad ones. I was spending too much time worrying about the wrong customers.

There is a saying in business that 80 percent of your profits come from 20 percent of your customers. While I can’t confirm that this is true for all businesses in all cases, I can say with confidence that your top-tier customers do, in fact, contribute to the overwhelming majority of your profits.

Your top-tier customers are the least price sensitive, value the work you do, promote your brand to others, and are the most faithful. These are the customers you need to worry about and cater to. These are the customers that will continue to build your business year after year. Devote your time and efforts toward your best customers. The rewards for this strategy far outweigh any pointless argument trying to change the mindset of the wrong customer. So please, don’t get emotionally consumed with the drama the wrong customers bring. It’s just not worth it.

“Your top-tier customers are the least price sensitive, value the work you do, promote your brand to others, and are the most faithful.” —Joe Marconi, owner, Osceola Garage

Remember, you cannot be everything to everybody, either. This statement you can take to the bank, literally. Trying to please everyone is a sure way to go out of business. There will be people that no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to please. When you focus on your top-tier customers and go out of the way to take of them, you are building for the future. What better way to build a solid business then to focus on your best customers. They, in turn, will bring in more of the customers you want.

Wondering what happened to Nick Bicker? About a year later he came walking into my shop and asked how much a timing belt replacement would be for his Toyota Camry. I quickly worked up the estimate and said, “Ten dollars.” Nick started his usual rant and rave, and then suddenly stopped. “Ten dollars, that’s all?” he said. I smiled and said, “Nick, you just proved to me that no matter what I said, you would have argued with me. Now, can I give you a real price for the job?” Nick laughed a little and said to do the job. Did he argue with me when he came to pick up the car and pay the bill? Of course he did. But he also calmly wrote out a check and carefully handed it to me.


Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of autoshopowner.com. Reach him at j.marconi@eliteworldwide.com

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