Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Difficult customers: Shedding them

So I sell a lot of weaner pigs, and to a lot of other farms and homeowners.  The basic transaction is pretty simple; here's the pen of pigs, pick out the ones you like, we figure out the price (usually a little lower if they're buying a quantity) and we load them up, smiles all around, and off they go.

Sometimes we don't have weaner pigs ready at that moment, and people do want to know that they've got pigs, so we take them back to the farrowing pens and show them litters, and they pick out the pigs they want pre-wean, and we note which ones, and set a date for pickup.

So what I say goes like this:  "ok, we'll take a deposit of $50 per head for the pigs.  The deposit means that we will keep the pigs for two weeks past the agreed pickup time.  If you don't pick up your pigs, we'll keep the deposit and resell the pigs:  is that ok with you?"  Most people are a little surprised by my mentioning reselling the pigs, and just about everyone comes and picks up their pigs on the day that they're ready to go.   Honestly, everyone comes on the day.  I've only had one customer not.  So here's the story:

It started out last year; we had a customer that wanted a specific set of breeds that we have, and wanted 10 piglets, with a preference for barrows (castrated males).  I work hard to accomodate that sort of request, so we looked over several litters, picked out the pigs, and set a date.  deposit paid, date set.

So the pickup date arrives, and they don't come, and don't call.  So I wait a couple of days and then call them.  They're busy, they can't come, there is something going on on their farm that is very important.  I understand that -- when can you come?

Well, they say, maybe a week.  Ok -- I don't mind a little delay.  what day?  So we set a date, and 8 days roll by (we're now 10 days past the pickup date) and I call them and ask them when they're going to pick up the pigs.  I get another story, things are tough, times are busy, we can't get away, how about another week?

I like them as customers; 10 pigs is a nice sale, I'm working with them, but at this point, 18 days past the agreed pickup time, it's getting to be a nuisance.  we've got a pen tied up with these pigs, we're having to tell other people that they're sold already, we're feeding them... it's not really what we're set up for.  So I call again, and set another date, and they don't show again, and 3 weeks after the pickup date it is very annoying.

So a month after the pickup date (the pigs are 3 months old, growing nicely) I call them, and I tell them point-blank:  you have to pick up your pigs or we're gonna sell them.  They agree, saturday at 11am, and I heave a sigh of relief.  they'll be here.  Silly me.

11am saturday, 12.  1pm .  2pm.  they call me, tell me they are on their way.  what time?  2:30.  3pm.  4pm.  5pm.  6pm.  They call and say they're almost there.  7pm.  around dark they roll up and we load the pigs, and I'm trying to be nice about it, but I had things to do today, errands, and hanging out for them was bad enough, but it comes across as arrogance to tell me  you're going to be there and then blow me off for hours.

So that's how I got to "we will keep them for 2 weeks past the pickup date, and if you do not pick them up, we will keep the deposit and resell them".

They were happy with their pigs last year, and this year they call and up their order from 10 to 12, which is fine with me.  i have pigs to sell, they specify the breeds and sex again, and I pull pigs from 4 different litters to meet what they're after.  I get a deposit in the mail, which is fine, and I have a pickup date.

  Fool me once, shame on you.  fool me twice, shame on me.

So the pickup date is a saturday, and they call on friday, and say saturday at 11am.  Saturday at 11am they call and say sunday at noon.  Sunday at 11am they call and say monday at 11am.  After I got the call on saturday, I sat there while they told me the story of why they couldn't make it, and I thought very seriously about just sending their check back.

Monday at 11am no show.  No call, either.  I call them at noon.  Where are you?  We're almost there.  1pm.  No show.  2pm.  3pm.  4pm and they show up.  I'm biting my lip.  trying to be nice about it as I chat with this woman about her farm and the pigs; she picks the pigs she wants from a larger group, we load them up, and I am pretty happy to see her go.  Nice person, just really really poor at time management I figure.

So then I get a call back from her about 2 hours later.  the pigs aren't what she wants.  She thinks one is acting weird.  they're not as big as last year.  (yea, you're darned right they're not as big -- they are 2 months old, not 3!) and so on.

And i will honestly admit I blew a gasket.  this was the last straw with this customer for me

the pigs you picked out of the pen aren't to your liking?  I will be right there with a stock trailer.  I will refund your money and collect the pigs, and I will not do business with you in the future.  She objects, no I don't have to do that, and I reply that I'm already on the road (I'd gotten a voicemail, and hooked up the trailer and started driving before I returned her call) and I'd be there.  Somehow the journey that took her 6 hours takes me an hour, and I pull up to the farm.  I hand her the checks, explain that I have brought a check of my own to cover the deposit, and she says "I need to talk to my lawyer".

So it turns out the the lawyer is her husband, and he comes out and they huddle, and say that they won't accept my check; (I accepted their check for the deposit, and returned their payment check uncashed) that I might stop payment on it.  That is actually the furthest thing from my mind, I will cheerfully refund every cent to get rid of this customer, but I ask when a good time tommorow is, (8am) and say that I'll be back with the cash in the morning, and I drive back, and then the next morning (at 7:55am)  I arrive at her farm, hand her the cash, and pick up the pigs.  And one of them was acting weird; it looked like it was having balance problems, but the rest were pretty much the pigs that she'd picked -- and I ended up selling all but the balance pig the next day for $25 more a pig, so I made another $200 on the sale.   Balance pig turned out to have some sort of ear infection; two weeks later it was 100% and is now sold and is off gaining weight somewhere.

She's probably a nice person, and probably does a great job on her farm; this is nothing personal.   I realized that no matter what the profit was from that sale, between the no-shows and the complaints (and I'm not sure if it was a negociation for a lower price she was revving up for, or what) my life is probably better by not doing business with her.   Her idea of a good customer and mine were just too far apart.


Bill Gauch said...

She "probably does a great job on her farm"? I highly doubt it. I would bet she probably has a hobby farm with a couple goats, a donkey, a llama or two, a large garden and what would have been your 10 pigs. You can't waste your time and everyone else's time and expect to be successful. This is one of those, 'it's hard work and long hours, but at least the pay is poor' things. Without the hard work or the long hours, I can't imagine the pay would exist at all.

C said...

my husband is a large animal veterinarian and we begin firing clients about 2 years ago. life has never been happier. we really enjoy the clients that we work for now. the people we have let go we still see around and they still seem to be having the same troubles over and over and over again. congratulations on choosing peace of mind over a cash you will not regret your decision

Nick in RI said...

In business you learn that your good customers are your best customers and your bad customers are your worst customers. In a competitive market the best way to fight your competitors is to make them serve your bad customers!

Éirinn Mac Giolla Phádraig said...

in my practice, i've come to believe that 20% of my clients (the extremely needy ones) take up 80% of my time. as soon as someone is starting to become unreasonable, and i determine that the problem isn't my work (sometimes it is and then that's on me, i realize....), i start to gently suggest that someone else would be better for her/him to work with and should i send her/his file somewhere else?

you gave one billion chances to this lady. when you add up all that time and resources and frustration, it can't possibly be worth the sale, especially when you have others with cash in hand to buy your pigs. her loss when she tries to get nice piglets at a fair price at another farm. my experience is that it is not that easy to do.