You Can Choose Your Customers

Customers normally select their suppliers, but this doesn’t mean suppliers should be happy about that.

Once upon a time, in the early days of RopeWeaver, there was a customer of ours, still is a customer of ours, who caused us problems.

It wasn’t the customer company as a whole, just our point of contact at the company. To be polite; he was difficult. To be not so polite; he was obnoxious, impatient, inept, and, worst of all, had a habit of bending the truth to suit his whim. I only feel comfortable writing this article now because the company in question has since dispensed with the services of said member of staff, for causes linked to my above assessment of his personality.

On average, our support team would receive one email from him per day, containing curious queries that really didn’t qualify under the terms of our support contract, despite him being computer savvy enough to know where the boundaries lay. For example, to paraphrase one of the more polite ones:

Him: The RopeWeaver software isn’t importing data, you really need to get this sorted. This is ridiculous, without it running we lose £30k an hour, if our guys can’t see our work orders on the factory floor then we can’t work on anything. We’re seriously considering ditching this and going with something else. What do I have to do to stop you tinkering with this!? Combined with the power cut we had last night this whole day is a disaster.
Support: Do you have a redundant power supply to keep your servers on during a power cut? If not did you switch your servers back on following this power cut?
Him: Erm…no…

It was Pareto-ish, we were spending 80% of our time chasing shadows for (what was substantially less) than 20% of our revenue. This one customer was pretty much keeping my support team employed. Unfortunately my support team are also my coders, so they really weren’t getting much productive work done on new features for the software while under the strain of daily harassment.

This got me thinking. As a business, you spend your time chasing exposure, trying to attract as many customers as possible. Initially it seems it doesn’t matter who they are, all that matters is they buy your product and line your pocket. But in a business where a substantial part of your profit model is the ongoing support and assistance you provide it isn’t always the correct thing to just chase everyone. Sometimes, you have to pick and choose your customers. Sometimes you just won’t fit together, and hopefully this is easily identified before you enter into any long term agreements. The lesson here is that you can choose your customers, just as much as they can choose their suppliers, and sometimes just because a customer wants you as a supplier doesn’t mean you should want them as a customer.

The remedy? Several years ago I was briefly unemployed, signing on at my local Job Centre every fortnight. This forged in me the firm belief that you should always avoid turning down paying work if it comes your way, because you never know when the work might suddenly disappear. However, not all work is equal, and sometimes we need to look a little deeper, past the price, to find the cost. In the above example the remedy was eventually quite simple: The customer got their locally outsourced IT support people to keep a closer eye on their computers, and on this member of staff, and the phone calls and emails soon stopped. Each situation is different, so I can’t offer a remedy.

Has RopeWeaver turned down customers? Yes, yes we have. If we don’t believe the fit is right for us then we will politely turn down the work, and recommend competitive products that meet that particular customer’s needs more accurately that us. RopeWeaver has a target userbase, and any company’s outside of that will eventually find the software unsuitable, and this makes both their and our lives miserable. There is a difference between support and life-support, and we don’t provide the latter.

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