Greenhouse Canada

Business Management
Growing in the Green: Complainers are good for business

November 25, 2013
By Melhem Sawaya


If your sales have plateaued, knowing how to deal with existing customers is more important than ever before.

If your sales have plateaued, knowing how to deal with existing customers is more important than ever before. The most important factor in knowing how to deal with your customer is to know what type of customer you are dealing with and how to deal with each customer type.

There are four types of customers.


The indifferent customer: You never know if they are happy, satisfied or mad … or just silent. For those reasons, they are scary.

It might be that they don’t have any other choice. Or perhaps they don’t look anywhere else for choices, which indicates they will take the short way out, which most of the time is the wrong way. It might also be that they don’t understand their business, so they can’t ask or comment on any transaction, positively or negatively.

Some indifferent customers simply don’t care about the business.

And last, but not least, they could be in financial trouble, and they accept any price or any quality product because they don’t have any intention or capability of paying.

The understanding customer: This person is always a pleasure to work with. He or she is a good communicator and listener and understands that things do not go according to plan every time.

Every supplier likes to service this type of a customer, but there is a lot of competition for them.

The inquisitive customer: This type of person could be a valuable customer to those suppliers who could answer his or her questions, who could supply honest information as well as the product.

The key to making a sale to this customer is to supply the necessary information and the technical expertise to go along with the product, without any exaggerations or misinformation.

The complainer: This is the customer who, as soon as he or she has the slightest problem, makes sure you know about it and sometimes exaggerates it and often while using the worst tone of voice possible.

Now, if we look at these four types of customers, who would you most want to work with? Most probably, all of them, given the need to sell more plants and related products!

But if we ask the question: “which one is the most valuable customer … ”

The answer, in my opinion is the complainer. Yes, this might sound crazy, but why don’t we explore this type of customer a little further.

You might be saying, “look, you’re not talking to me. We’re doing just fine. We don’t have that many complaints anyway.”

Maybe you don’t. But would it shake you to know for every complaint you hear, there are 24 others just like it that you never hear? Multiply each complaint you get by 25 … and now see how you feel!

A recent study found only one of out every 25 clients takes the time to tell you about a problem they have with your company.

The study had a lot more to say about complaints.

Customers who take time to complain are more likely to do business again with the company that upset them, even if the problem wasn’t solved satisfactorily. Of those who take the time to complain, 54 to 70 per cent will do business again with the company if their complaints are resolved. That figure increases to a staggering 95 per cent if the complaint was resolved quickly.

Customers who have had complaints satisfactorily resolved tell an average of five people, many of them prospective customers, about the great treatment they received. That’s free advertising.


Don’t argue, defend or complain. Think of a time when you were really upset and frustrated. You called to complain and the first response you got was an argument. Your “upset temperature” probably went right through the roof, and you vowed to get revenge.

Listen. What if a person you had complained to had listened instead of argued. What about your “upset temperature” now?

If you must make noises, grunting “OK” or “I see” or “Hmmm” or “Ah-hah” are all fine. But focus all your attention on understanding what the customer tells you. You’ll get extremely valuable customer information.

Ask, “would you mind if I took notes?” That question will create, in the customer’s mind, a picture of you devoting your energy to understanding their complaint. It also will help you keep a record of complaints.

Summarize your understanding of the complaint. When the customer has completed his explanation, simply put into your own words your understanding of what he or she said. Don’t add or subtract anything. It’s a check to make sure what you heard was what was said.

Ask, “what would you like me (us) to do?” Don’t make the mistake of telling them what you will do. About 80 per cent of the time they will ask for less than you will be willing to give.

What complainers really want is understanding, reassurance it won’t happen again, and a guarantee they won’t suffer financial loss. If you have done a good job of listening, the customer will not take advantage of you.

It may turn out to be the best investment you’ve ever made.

Knowing your customers and how to deal with them is very important, but customers (buyers) change jobs, retire or are forced to work with more suppliers. That is why other factors for a successful business are needed, including:

  • Excellent quality.
  • Cost effective operation.
  • Solid staff.
  • More than one customer.

It’s important to have the attitude that there is always a better way to do things.

And last, but not least, be a team player by creating an environment in which you can capitalize on the strength of others.

Melhem Sawaya of Focus Greenhouse Management is a consultant and research coordinator to the horticultural industry. Comments on this or any other article are welcome at, or by visiting .

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