"Eighty-seven-year-old Gladys has a reputation among her fellow retirement community members," write Marilyn Shuttle and Lori Jo Vest in the first chapter of Who's Your Gladys? "She's known as a cranky complainer who is impossible to please." But when she called Professional Movers for a quote, the company's sales rep, Chris, decided to treat her spunk and tenacity with respect. "By the end of his visit," they continue, "Gladys had bonded with Chris and booked the move."

As always seems to happen with our most irritable customers, though, something went wrong: During the move, an employee accidentally cracked Gladys' marble tabletop. Andrew Androff, a co-owner of Professional Movers, braced himself for the tongue-lashing he knew would come. "[He] felt compassion for her while she vented," note Shuttle and Vest, "and assured her that his company would have the table repaired, and this if she wasn't satisfied with the results, he would replace it."

Chris followed up by visiting Gladys at home—rather than making a phone call—and promised a satisfactory resolution, no matter what it took. So when repairs to the tabletop fell short of expectations, he volunteered to drive Gladys to the store, where she chose a replacement.

The extraordinary customer service cost the company time and money, but it impressed Gladys so deeply that her word-of-mouth recommendations have made Professional Movers the number-one choice in her retirement complex. "High and persistent praise from such a hard-to-please person attracts attention," conclude Shuttle and Vest.

The Po!nt: You just might turn your most difficult customers into your greatest advocates by handling them with compassion and thoughtfulness.

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