For private counselors: Sometimes it’s best to breakup

One of the hardest facts to accept as a business owner is that some people are predisposed to be unhappy, no matter what you do for them.  There is no scenario where you delight those customers, where they sing your praises and refer their friends.  So you spend all your time trying to change a professional relationship that's never going to be rewarding for either party.  When that happens, sometimes it's best to breakup. 

Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines, understood this.  Southwest will respond to every letter they receive from a customer, but when Herb got the sense that Southwest and a particularly irascible customer just weren't right for each other, he broke up. 

From page 270 of Nuts!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success.


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One woman who frequently flew on Southwest was constantly disappointed with every aspect of the company’s operation. In fact, she became known as the “Pen Pal” because after every flight she wrote in with a complaint.  She didn’t like the fact that the company didn’t assign seats; she didn’t like the absence of a first-class section; she didn’t like not having a meal in flight; she didn’t like Southwest’s boarding procedure; she didn’t like the flight attendants’ sporty uniforms and the casual atmosphere.  And she hated peanuts!  Her last letter, reciting a litany of complaints, momentarily stumped Southwest’s customer relations people. They bumped it up to Herb’s desk, with a note: ‘This one’s yours.’

In sixty seconds, Kelleher wrote back and said, ‘Dear Mrs. Crabapple, We will miss you. Love, Herb.'"

Yes, you should work like crazy to make your customers happy.  But you'll be a happier, more successful business owner if you're attracting the type of customer who's most likely to be delighted by what you do. 

And if you get the sense that you and a particular customer are never going to have a good relationship no matter what you do, it's best for both of you to break it off and have the opportunity for both of you to find someone else who's a better match.