One of the biggest problems your business may face is predatory customers. You know the type: They try to squeeze as much time, money and resources out of your business as possible.
Predatory customers may make up only 20% of your business, but they cause 80% of your problems. And while it’s easy to treat this like a customer service problem, it’s actually a marketing strategy issue. You may be inadvertently marketing to the wrong type of customer.
What are predatory customers?
No matter how good your product or service is, there are some customers you just won’t be able to please. Predatory customers are focused on squeezing as much as they can out of you – even if it ruins your business.
These customers are disloyal, demanding and difficult to please. They think their needs are more important than anyone else’s and won’t hesitate to cause problems to get what they want.
How can predatory customers hurt your business?
Dealing with unhappy customers isn’t always a bad thing; it can actually improve your business in the long run. But constantly dealing with predatory customers is another issue.
That’s because predatory customers don’t want to compromise and aren’t necessarily looking for a solution. In all likelihood, they don’t really care about your business and just enjoy causing problems.
They divert your energy away from your mission and the loyal customers who help grow your business. And predatory customers are quick to badmouth your business or leave negative online reviews.
Did you know? You should respond to all online reviews – positive and negative. Responding to negative reviews gives you a chance to fix the problem, and responding to good customer reviews shows you care about all your customers.
5 types of predatory customers
This chart provides a quick overview of the five types of predatory customers and how to spot them:
What attracts this customer
Demands options that don’t exist, refuses to compromise
A lack of options
Says or does anything to get what they want
Demands special treatment and to be in charge
An aversion to conflict
Guilts you into giving them what they want
A willingness to bend over backward to keep customers happy
Doesn’t think the rules apply to them
Businesses that aren’t very unique
The Arranger: Tries to adjust deals, circumstances and events
The Arranger always wants a win-lose situation that ends in their favor. They change terms and agreements, demand options that don’t exist, and push for concessions that benefit only them.
An Arranger cautionary tale
Mitchell ran a temp agency, and his company had just won a major contract with a well-known business. If all went well, this contract would be 10 times his revenue in one year.
But things didn’t go well. The Arranger had Mitchell sign a contract forever waiving his right to take legal action if something went wrong.
Not realizing his mistake, Mitchell hired hundreds of workers and took out a loan to cover payroll while waiting for The Arranger to pay. But The Arranger decided they weren’t going to pay. The bank demanded payment, and the Arranger’s refusal to pay meant Mitch’s business was forced to shut down.
Dangerous marketing that attracts the Arranger
The Arranger looks for flexibility. Offering free estimates to anyone who asks and including concepts like “we’re here to make you happy” and “the customer is always right” in your marketing attracts Arrangers.
While the specifics in each situation are different, the general idea is the same. Arrangers are drawn to marketing that communicates one of two things:
- Fear of losing their business: When we’ve got plenty of options and lots of prospects, we’re usually more focused on fairness than being “flexible.” Experienced Arrangers know your inability to walk away gives them leverage. They use this leverage to get the terms and conditions they want.
- An unhealthy willingness to be flexible: You can afford to be inflexible when you have lots of options. When you’re feeling desperate, it’s easy to do whatever it takes.
The Corruptor: Reliably dishonest and consistently unethical
The Corruptor will say or do anything to get what they want. They’ll lie to you, pester you to do things you’re not comfortable with and ask you to lie for them. They’re always trying to erode your morals and values.
A Corruptor cautionary tale
Jan sells cupcakes online. While her business is new, things are going well. Along comes a Corruptor who places an order for 336 cupcakes for an upcoming birthday party. They request a custom design, fresh strawberries, German chocolate – the works.
Jan completes the order and delivers the cupcakes herself. A week later, the Corruptor initiates a chargeback with their credit card company claiming they never received the order. They follow up by posting a nasty review on Yelp.
Their credit card company gives the Corruptor a full refund, and Jan loses a ton of money. Her business suffers as potential customers take their business elsewhere.
Dangerous marketing that attracts the Corruptor
Corruptors are attracted to marketing that conveys you’re willing to accept a one-sided relationship or abuse. Firm boundaries and the ability to say no give you power and protection against the Corruptor.
Corruptors are drawn to marketing that communicates the following.
- Poor boundaries: It’s common for the Corruptor to feel out their targets. The last thing they want is to take the fall for their bad behavior. Questions about hypothetical scenarios involving “gray areas” are red flags. Questions about what you’re willing to do to earn their business or loyalty are also red flags.
- No quid pro quo (this for that): If you’re negotiating with a customer and they ask for a concession, they must be willing to give you one in return. If you give them a discount, they should be willing to do something for you.
Tip: To avoid chargebacks, create detailed product or service descriptions, and post a clear refund policy prominently in your store and on your website.
The Disruptor: All about control
Disruptors demand special treatment and want to be in charge. They throw tantrums when they don’t get their way and refuse to use your products as intended. They boss your employees around and hoard access.
Real-life Disruptor example
Apple’s design focus comes from a strongly controlled, perfectionist culture. It knows its way is the right way. Apple feels that those who don’t like its aesthetic shouldn’t buy its products. Disruptors wouldn’t have much success with Apple.
Microsoft, on the other hand, has a strong peace-making culture. For example, when Windows 8 came out in 2012, customers threw a collective tantrum about its design. Microsoft, being more vulnerable to disruptors, announced it was fixing the problem with Windows 10.
Dangerous marketing that attracts the Disruptor
Businesses with peace-making or fun-loving cultures are most at risk. If your marketing tells customers that you prefer to avoid conflict or you’re all about fun, you’re an easy target for the Disruptor. Messages about how the customer is always right are music to a Disruptor’s ears – and a cash flow disaster when you’re missing the right systems.
Businesses unknowingly attract Disruptors with marketing messages like these:
- Designed around you.
- Have it your way.
- The customer is king.
The Slanderer: Uses guilt and shame to control or punish you
Slanderers will tell you that you’ve let them down. They’ll lie to you or call you names – whatever it takes to get you to lose your cool. When you do, they have the justification for reneging on their commitments.
A Slanderer cautionary tale
Fitz treated his vendor like “the help” – because it was. A thousand other firms could do the same job for less, and Fitz made sure his vendor knew it.
“I’m your biggest client. My company pays your bills.”
His vendor suffered for it. It struggled to keep employees and constantly discounted its prices to “earn” more work.
Dangerous marketing that attracts the Slanderer
If your business lacks measurable uniqueness, you’re leaving yourself open to the Slanderer. Businesses that lack uniqueness feel the sting of being beaten by competitors and passed over by customers.
They realize there’s no compelling reason (besides price or terms) that compels a customer to do business with them. So their marketing signals to customers that they’re willing to abuse themselves to make customers happy.
You’ve seen the marketing pieces:
- We care about our customers! [Aren’t you supposed to do that?]
- We never stop working for you!
- The customer is king!
The Schemer: Looks for loopholes
The Schemer uses their resourcefulness to find a way over, under, around or through your rules. These customers use creative ways to game the system and manipulate you.
Real-life Schemer example
A man in China purchased a first-class ticket on Eastern China Airlines and used it to scam a year’s worth of free meals at the VIP lounge in Xi’an Airport.
He arrived before his flight and ate at the lounge. After he finished, he changed his flight’s departure date to another day.
He repeated this process over and over and over, eating some 300 meals in a year. Then, when the airline started investigating, he canceled his ticket before it expired and received a full refund.
Dangerous business and marketing practices that attract the Schemer
Businesses often make promises without adding conditions. A Schemer typically targets these areas first. If you’re offering a money-back guarantee, Schemers want to see that your guarantee gives them the right to demand a refund indefinitely and keep your product. It’s ideal when there are no conditions they have to meet. It’s a bonus if you give them cash or incentives.
Ask yourself a couple questions to avoid attracting Schemers:
- Does your product or service come with a guarantee?
- Do you make promises to your customers?
Tip: Predatory customers can damage your brand’s reputation. To stay on top of what people are saying about your business, consider using one of the best online reputation management providers.
How should you handle predatory customers?
If you get any of these customers, should you show them the door right away? It depends.
If you’re unprepared and unsure about dealing with the kind of behavior we’ve covered here, it’s a good idea to move on.
On the other hand, getting a new customer is expensive. It takes time, money and effort. If you’re able to turn them into all-stars, these customers often spend as much as 10x more than your average customer.
If you have established customers who exhibit predatory behavior, your decision is the same.
If you make the changes to your marketing plan as discussed, customers will have to decide if they’re interested in changing with you. If old marketing habits brought these customers in, they won’t be happy. Expect things to get worse before they get better as these customers try to put things back to the way they were.
If they accept the changes, their behavior will change. Those who refuse will leave (on their own or with help).
Your marketing shouldn’t attract predatory customers
All-star customers trust you, so they’re more understanding and insist on giving you control. You’re no longer expected to bend over backward or take abuse for a chance to earn their business.
They don’t fight, bully or manipulate you for the best deal. They realize you’re unique and the only one who can offer the one thing you provide. Getting and retaining customers is so much easier when they’re loyal, trusting and easy to please.
Jamie Johnson contributed to the writing and research in this article.