The horror and hilarity of the customer

Woman screaming (Photo Courtesy)
Not all customers are created equal. Businesses deal with the good, the great and the downright ugly.

It is impossible to avoid getting entangled with a not-so-pleasant client every once in a while. At such times, it can be difficult to believe the edicts that the customer is always right, or that the customer is the boss or that s/he comes first.

You can’t always give your clients a free pass to do whatever they please. The three entrepreneurs in this story give us their experiences with customers who got them to dig deep to stay civil.

Doris Akoth:

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I have been a hairdresser for about 10 years and have a salon, Hawi and Hera, in Nairobi’s central business district.

Not so long ago, a client came with a photo of Rihanna. She said she wanted the exact hairstyle the music superstar had.

“This could be Riri’s hair, which is why it fits perfectly,” I explained. “Plus, the shape of your face and head are different from hers.”

Please keep in mind that at the Afro Hair Awards last year, I scooped two prizes: Weaveologist of the Year and Female Hairdresser of the Year. I knew what I was talking about, but the client insisted on getting Rihanna’s hairdo.

I gave in but warned her it wouldn’t look exactly the same, but it would come close as possible. But when I got done, the client said I had missed the look by a mile.  

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Look, I’m a hairdresser, I’m not Harry Houdini. I cannot wave a magic comb and turn a client into Riri with the good hair.

Anyway, the client told me to redo the work and I spent almost half a day trying to recreate Riri without success.

In the end, the client didn’t even pay me. I just let her go. If I had detained her, she would have thrown tantrums and guys would’ve renamed my salon Hell-n-Hair-Raising.

Eventually, though, she came back, apologised and said she had been having a bad day. She asked me to do her hair. I politely declined.

I also had an ugly experience with a long-term client. I stock weaves in my salon and, because I trust her, I used my products, time and skills on her, and agreed when she said she’d M-Pesa me the money.

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I waited. Then I called, but she kept making empty promises. She finally came back when she wanted a fresh hairdo. She first paid her debt, and after I was done with the new look, she paid half what was due and said she’d send the balance via M-Pesa.

That’s when I realised that familiarity had bred contempt. I removed her from my trusted clients’ circle.  

Another time, a client said I’d given her a bad hairdo and threatened to post her gripe on social media and spoil my name. That freaked me out. Fortunately, it was just a threat.

I’m lucky, though. A fellow hairdresser was put on Buyer Beware by a client from hell. My friend is still rebuilding her dented brand and image.  

 Jackline Handa: 

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I started Isamado Homecare in 2012. We clean everything, from mansions to mattresses, and can send you househelps, too.

I’ve had clients who treat househelps like slaves. Our househelps work from 8am to 5pm.

One recently told me that she wasn’t given a moment to rest or to grab a bite to eat. When she requested a breather, she was told that she’d come to work, not laze around.

Another client told our househelp that she had not gone to school and that’s why she was doing menial work. What this client didn’t know was that the person she was talking to was a university graduate. Jobs are scarce. It takes humility for a graduate to come and ask for such a job.

Then there are vindictive clients. I had one instance where a client claimed that our support staff had stolen her gadget. She dropped this bombshell just as I was invoicing her. Talk about perfect timing.  

Strangely, she didn’t want us to involve the police. Knowing that this is a gadget that can be traced, we asked for its IMEI number, but she didn’t want to send it.

We offered to buy her a new gizmo, but she refused to take it. Once she was told that we’d bought a replacement and we called her to find out how we could take it to her, she went quiet.

It’s been a year since, and she’s never spoken about it again. What broke my heart is that she went to the extent of spoiling the name of my company online.

Graham and Lulu Roy:

I was born in Kenya and went to school in the UK. I run Lime Caterers with my wife, Lulu. We’ve been in business for six years now.

The biggest problem we find is having clients who aren’t clear on what they want. They’ll see something over the weekend or at some event and ask us to replicate the idea. But when you get down to it, they have no idea what they are thinking or talking about.

We are running a professional company, but many clients will say that they have an event at 8pm and need to have a bar. We tell them we will be there at around 6pm, but then they go: “No, you need to be here at noon.”

When we ask them why, they tell us the tent is being set up so we need to know where we are going to be. These types of clients want you there, standing for around six solid hours before you need to actually be there.

They want my beers to get warm, my ice to melt, my staff to be tired and for me to do nothing, and they do not want to pay me for that.

Then there are clients who have found us on social media and haven’t read anything.

They call and want me to recite what’s already in black and white. It wastes precious time.

I put every detail online to make the interaction faster and more accessible. If you spend five minutes reading through my profile, you’ll find exactly what you want

As an entrepreneur, I try and move my business forward. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. [email protected]

Customer careHandling customersEntrepreneurship