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Pleasing Cranky Customers 

By now, we clearly understand that many of our customers, both retail and business-to-business, have not been happy this year, to say the least. In fact, due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of them are cranky and super sensitive. Who can blame them? Almost unbearable business conditions, as well as the required social distancing, mask wearing and isolation of family members, have worn out nearly everyone.

But this difficult experience has taught us some useful lessons. We hope that an event of this magnitude will never happen again, of course, but some of what we have learned the hard way may be useful in the future during widespread regional devastation caused by hurricanes, forest fires or tornados. Here are some suggestions as to what you, as a company manager, should and should not do under similar circumstances:

Do Not

1. Do not even appear to be benefiting unduly or taking advantage of a serious crisis situation. Your reputation will be damaged, and customers will remember the negative publicity forever. It’s your image that counts.

2. Do not allow your employees to react to any customer situation in a way that may seem inconsistent with previous practice. Super-sensitive customers may read more into this than is really there.

3. Do not make changes to normal procedures unless you absolutely have to. Unpleasant surprises drive customers away. Make sure that all employees understand this, and that they are on the same page as management.


1. Do project a positive image, even when it may be difficult to do so. No one wants to hear about your troubles—they have their own. Your positive attitude will result in customer confidence, which will pay off later. 

2. Do try to continue to do business as usual, even if your profits are affected negatively. Take it on the chin, if you have to, for as long as you can. Hang on to key employees. Your goal is for your company to emerge at the other end of that long, dark tunnel with its best employees and customer base intact.

3. Do something out of the ordinary to benefit your community if you can. Go to great lengths to help maintain contact with supporters if you are involved in a non-profit charity, symphony or theater group. The hope is that those subscribers will still be there when the organization resumes its normal schedule again. Being a good corporate citizen is especially important during a crisis. People will remember it. 

4. Do give your customers more than they expect in the easiest and most pleasant way possible. If you can afford some small enhancement, easing or simplification in the way you do business, by all means do it, even if it is only temporary. Your thoughtfulness will be appreciated long after the crisis ends. 

Jack Goodhue, management coach, can be reached at

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