By Louis Altazan
Published: April 26, 2009

It is human nature to search for reason in the things we observe. For instance, early on men sought to explain day and night. They reasoned since the sun was the source of light and they could see it "move" across the sky, it must revolve around the Earth. The Earth was the center of the universe. This model explained the phenomena, was very popular, widely accepted and wrong.

A widely held belief holds that client behavior can be explained with similar logic. Many believe that clients exist in definable categories, such as A, B, C and D. The thought is people are predisposed to predictable behavior based on their category. Using this model a business need only attract A and possibly B clients and avoid C and D clients and all will be well.

I feel the problem with this theory is that it places the business as "the center of the universe." Looking from this point of view the model seems to make sense. There are however many examples that do not fit. Those that would cling to the theory tend to ignore the exceptions. In reality exceptions disprove the theory. When observation does not match theory, theory must be revised.

Clinging to such belief results in clients, whoís behavior is not understood. Clients may even be labeled as problems, bottom feeders, goof balls and a host of other derogatory foolishness.

The main problem with pre-disposed behavior theory is, it attempts to explain client behavior based on predetermined disposition rather than a reaction to their situation. It seems to ignore that all people tend to act in their own self interest as they view them. In reality, the business is not the primary object, merely a means to an end in the eyes of the client. As long as a particular business serves the clientís best interest, as they view them, it will be chosen and utilized.

By seeing the client as "the center of the universe," a business should be able to better position itself to understand their behavior. By better understanding client behavior the business may better serve their needs. The business is then rewarded with not only their business but possible referrals.

I believe adopting a more correct model of viewing client behavior involves realizing a number of fallacies. Obviously there are people who are dishonest and malicious. They represents a small minority of the population and will not be considered for the sake of this discussion. What is left is the vast majority who can be very pleasant or quite erratic depending on their situation.

As stated earlier people will act in their own best interest as they view them. This will often not agree with a business view of the clientís best interest. When this occurs there will be dissatisfaction and sometimes conflict, depending on personality types.

In reality, what are most often viewed as good clients are merely clients whoís view of their self interest is closely aligned with the views of the business. This can however vary from one visit to another, one service to another or even the same service at different times. This accounts for the client that comes in and seems fine but on the next or subsequent visits acts "irrationally." The clientís view of their best interest has changed but the view of the business has not.

Other problems arise when the business accepts clients whoís needs cannot be met. For instance the client needs a service rendered now. The business does not have the ability to perform the service now. Failure to ascertain this prime need may result in an "irrational client."

Setting false expectations is another major factor. For example a business wishes to increase sales. They do this by studying the market and adjusting prices on frequently priced items. The plan is people will check these prices, find them competitive and assume all prices are low. Itís hoped that profit can be made up on less known prices.

A client checks the price of an oil change and finds a convenient shop with a low advertised price. Thinking they can save money the client has the service performed. During the service, an inspection reveals worn suspension parts. The client declines the work, because it is an expense they did not expect. To the client this is perfectly rational, they did not expect the expense. The shop sees it as irrational and suspects the client is only interested in their loss leaders. With the former theory, the client moves to a C or D rating.

Later the vehicle starts making a noise and something breaks. The client remembers the "inexpensive" shop and has the vehicle towed there. The quote seems like a lot of money, and the client wonders if itís a fair amount? After all, this shop is supposed to be inexpensive, thatís why it was chosen.


The client calls two other shops to verify the price range. One is comparable the other somewhat less. These shops are what the client considered quality shops rather than "inexpensive" shops. The client now feels uneasy. This place was supposed to be inexpensive and clearly they are not. Reluctantly they authorizes the repair rather than move the vehicle.

The shop sees this as further evidence of D behavior. They never perceive their marketing and techniques as having any effect. Just another D client, belly aching over price. Donít these people understand how good we are?

The client picks up the vehicle and notices two small problems. The problems might have otherwise overlooked except for their uneasiness with the shop. The steering wheel is not perfectly straight when driving straight and there are finger prints on the wheels. Now the uneasiness, combines with mistrust and anger starts to develop. The shop was supposed to be "inexpensive," which clearly they were not. In the clientís mind they paid more than they should have and now the job is not done "right."

The client returns to the shop and points out the problems. The shop assuming this D client is looking for something for nothing is not helpful. No apology, no empathy, rather the shop takes a self defense posture. The situation heats up and after an exchange of words the client is told to leave and never return. The shop thinks, "Another "Goof Ball," good grief it must be a full moon."

The client, totally dissatisfied tells everyone he can and the shop wonders why business is slow. They wonder where so many illogical people come from and why everyone canít be an A or B. The truth is everyone is an A and everyone can be a D, depending on their view of their own self interest. Great opportunity exist for those that can better understand this perception.

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