As shoppers walk into Stew Leonard’s, a small specialty grocery store chain located just outside of New York City, they are greeted by a large granite block with the following written upon it:  Rule 1: The customer is always right. Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread Rule 1.

Now I’m not saying the customer is always right. She isn’t. But if you want to keep your customers — and these days, who can afford not to? — you can’t afford to piss them off.

Let’s face it, “stuff” happens, both in business and in our personal lives. And  it is often incredibly hard to control anger and frustration when things go wrong, whether in the business or in our personal lives. Yet as business owners — especially small service business owners — you have to learn to grit your teeth (or count to 10) and say or do nothing that could cost you a customer and revenue.

Especially now, in a down economy, where businesses are losing customers and going out of business left and right, you simply cannot afford to piss off your valuable customers. Yet some business owners just don’t get it.

Case in point, this small business owner, who actually preaches courtesy and self control as part of the service he offers and instills in customers.

Here’s an email I received from him this past week:

In an attempt to make life a little simpler, I realized that G-Mail was much better (so far) at sending mass e-mails than Yahoo.  So, if you don’t mind, mark this  nameofbusiness@gmail* address as “friendly” so that you can receive our e-mails.


* This is not the actual email address of the business.

This was the third such email I had received (in approximately as many months) from this business owner, whom I have known for over four years, and have helped with PR in the past.

And knowing of his frustration, and wanting to help (as a fellow small business owner, who happens to help small business owners to communicate and market their businesses), I sent the following, short reply:

You forgot the “.com” =

Have you considered an email newsletter/alert service like Constant Contact or iContact or My Emma or Interspire? They all offer free trials and are pretty cheap — and very easy to use. Also gives your emails a professional look and allow you to send emails to hundreds of folks at once.


While I was prepared for the business owner (who is very proud, and might not appreciate me pointing out his mistake) to ignore my advice or say “thanks but no thanks,” I was not expecting the tirade that followed (which I cannot reprint here). Indeed, I was so shaken by his vitriol that I was literally shaking — with fear — and quickly wrote an apology.

Hours later, and still shaken, and a bit angry, I mentioned the incident to a friend whose husband is also a small business owner. Her response: How does a guy like that stay in business? Do you know how much ass-kissing my husband does each day? But you have to if you want to stay in business.

And you know what? She’s right.

Now I’m not saying you have to be an (excuse my “French”) ass-kisser to be successful, but you do need to control or channel your anger, especially where customers are involved.

As for the small business owner mentioned above, whom I have given thousands of dollars in business and referrals and help to over the years, I am not sure we will be doing business much longer. While he sent customers an email the very next day with the correct email address, he has yet to apologize to me for his unprofessional and uncalled-for behavior.

Have a customer service or small business story you’d like to share? Leave me a comment.

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