How to Be a Great Customer

Good Customers Have the Best Experiences

November 3, 2011

Relationships between company representatives and customers go both ways. In order to receive the very best customer experience, you should be the very best customer you can be. Here, we offer some guidelines for how to be a good customer and reap the rewards of positive, win/win relationships.


We focus on telling customer-facing employees how to deliver a great customer experience. But relationships between company representatives and customers go both ways. In order to receive the very best customer experience, you should be the very best customer you can be. Here are some guidelines for how to be a good customer:

* Understand the offerings and policies of the company

* Offer clear feedback

* Offer valuable suggestions

* Communicate the positive as well as the negative

* Listen

* Be considerate


For years, I’ve been giving advice about how to provide a great customer experience, but today I thought I’d turn the tables and talk about how to be a great customer. I don’t mean how to be a profitable customer for the company, although that will bring you rewards (and we’ll talk about that a little), but about how to behave as an individual customer to create good relationships and the resulting positive experiences that come from those relationships.

In my experience, good customers:

* Understand the offerings and policies related to these offerings. This doesn’t mean that you support all the policies and don’t ever complain. But it does mean that you are aware of the current realities of the relationship and are willing to abide by the rules or take your business elsewhere. Empty threats, like, “I’ll take my business elsewhere,” have no power unless you are willing to back it up with action. Of course, no customer service rep wants to hear that you are dissatisfied and will cut off the relationship, but they can’t change policies or offerings just because you don’t like them.

* Offer clear feedback. When good customers do have complaints or suggestions, they clearly point out the problems in policies and products. They articulate themselves well (they are clear about their concerns and how they want things to work, which means thinking about it before calling and sending the ranting email in ALL CAPS!). They are calm and patient, understanding that the customer service representative they are talking to doesn’t have the authority to change things, but should be able to capture the concerns and recommendations and escalate them to those with the proper decision making capability. I recently wrote a blog post about JetBlue’s online customer feedback process. I received a response that showed my suggestion had been heard and was being escalated. This happened because, as a customer, I went through the correct process for offering feedback, and I clearly stated what I wanted. A tirade of what’s wrong is hard to decipher (or take action upon). Well-thought-out feedback is much more likely to receive the attention it deserves.

* Offer valuable suggestions. Just because an idea is clearly stated doesn’t mean it is a good idea—one that is a win/win for customers and providers alike. As much as companies want to give customers everything they want, the business has to, well, stay in business. In the suggestion to JetBlue, I included what the upside was for both the customer (early boarding and priority security lines) and the airline (potential new source of revenue). Be sure to think about whether your request is completely one sided. True, protesting unreasonable new banking fees on top of the astronomical fees already paid is satisfying. But if you can point out that by not adding extra fees, the bank will retain you as a customer—and one with more cash—and will gain great PR that will attract potential new customers, you give the bank a sound reason for rethinking the fees policy going forward.

* Communicate the positive as well as the negative. Good customers don’t just complain; they communicate what they like about the company and why they have been a customer as well as what they don’t like, then they offer ideas for improvement. Think about how you like to receive “constructive criticism.” Friends who just tell you what’s wrong with you don’t stay friends for long. But the friend who tells you what’s right with you, and how you can make yourself even better, is a friend to be valued. There should be a reason why you are a customer—if there isn’t, why are you even bothering to complain? Just leave! I, personally, have a lot of issues with my bank’s fees and rates policies, as well as ideas about what information should be easily accessible online (such as current account interest rates). But I have had very few problems with the bank’s support personnel. In fact, I’ve had great interactions with empathetic and smart CSRs. When I complain—and I do—I make sure to tell the person to whom I’m complaining that it isn’t them, and that they have been terrific to work with. I express my frustration with the bank’s policies. Typically, they agree with me, and they are grateful to get positive feedback on what they are doing. This makes them more likely to try to escalate my problems and get them resolved quickly.

* Listen. Often there is an explanation for policies and processes that you don’t agree with. Good customers will listen to the explanation if it is offered to see if it changes their opinion or their recommendation. For example, at my bank, to achieve the highest customer program level, you need to maintain $25,000 in funds or in loans to the bank, but only if you live in the Northeast. The rest of the country only has to have $10,000 or $20,000 depending on where they are located. I have always believed that this policy was supremely unfair and just mouthed off about it to anyone who was available while conducting other business. One bank employee took the time to explain to me the reason why there was a discrepancy in the minimum amounts required. The program is designed to offer services to the top level of customers, and customers in the Northeast typically had more money in the bank than those in other parts of the country. If the minimum were lowered, rather than, say, 10 percent of customers achieving this highest level, 30 percent could qualify. This costs the bank a lot of money. I still wasn’t sold on the reasoning, but, by listening, I understood that the bank was looking to reward the top 10 percent of customers, not a specific dollar amount of investment.

* Be considerate to a fellow human being. Remember, the people you get mad at about policy aren’t the policy makers, and too often don’t have any clout in the organization to impact policy, even when it’s based on direct customer feedback. Don’t blame them, but kindly request that your suggestions or grievances get rolled upward to the policy makers in the best way possible. If the agent lets you know that they are powerless, then ask (nicely) to speak to a supervisor who might have more power. But be sure to let the supervisor know that you don’t have a complaint with the CSR—after all, enforcing the policies, as annoying as they may be, is their job...

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