Pouting Teens, Unhappy Customers

“Why can’t you ever make anything that actually tastes good?”

If you’ve had the joy of parenting a teenager, you probably have heard a similar comment. If not, I can tell you, it’s not my cooking. I promise. Teens just have a way of finding the worst in some situations. Dinner being one of them.

Let me translate:

“It’s all about me, and I want tacos tonight. I don’t want corn chowder, even though I like corn chowder. If you don’t want to make tacos, too bad. Because if I can’t have tacos, no one in this house will be happy.”

Angry Teen

This exchange happened in my house last night, and I couldn’t help thinking about it through the evening. Not only did my daughter not get tacos, but she ate her corn chowder alone, sulking all along.

And then this morning it hit me: Teens are a bit like unhappy customers, with a few key differences.

Unhappy customers can generally vote with their feet. If they don’t like what you’re making, they’ll move on. Unfortunately for teens, they are captive to the parental household. This makes them more vocal than unhappy customers, so as a parent, you have the good fortune of knowing how they feel. When it comes to customers, they often won’t tell you why they left, leaving you wondering why your business is shrinking.

Unhappy customers deserve to be heard. Teens at times need to be told enough is enough (in a tender, loving way). Because teens aren’t always rational. Customers, on the other hand, usually have good reasons for being dissatisfied. Maybe you bungled an order, or promised something you didn’t deliver. Perhaps expectations didn’t live up to reality. It pays to ask, and listen. While you may not be able to save that particular customer relationship, you can always learn something to improve your business and better satisfy future customers.

Unhappy customers may want something they can’t have. It’s my experience that some customers want the moon and the sky and the stars, too. Just like teenagers. Those customers are not always right. There’s no harm in wanting, but the reality is that businesses have to focus, and they can’t always offer everyone exactly what they want. Sometimes, we just have to accept that a certain customer may be better served elsewhere. We can preserve the relationship by saying goodbye in a professional, friendly way, offering to help that customer find what they need. Generally, they appreciate the honesty.

I don’t dole out much parenting advice – my family is still a work in progress. But I can suggest that if you find your customers acting like teenagers, stop and think about why. Talk with them, ask questions, listen to the answers. See what you can do better. And then maybe, take them out to dinner.

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