Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire! Resist Falling for Customers’ Tall Tales

Published on May 1, 2016

lying pond customersThis phrase was, no doubt, born on a long forgotten playground generations ago. It humorously calls into question the veracity of a child whose exaggerations have exceeded the acceptable norm.

A classic example from my childhood is a fellow by the name of Marty. His brother was something else. According to Marty, his super-sibling was both a skilled fisherman, who had caught a 600-pound catfish at the dam using a tow truck, and a spy, who actually possessed a prototype bionic arm. Truly some amazingly absurd stories originated from my fellow classmate.

But Marty is not the only one to spin some tall tales. As adults and business owners, we still face an onslaught of lies that can sometimes leave us shaking our heads in wonder. To be clear, I’m not talking about your typical lies — “The fish was as long as my arm!” “My girlfriend is a model.” “Vote for me, and I will fix everything.” What I’m referring to are the kinds of lies that customers tell to cover their own mistakes, which deprive our companies of time and money.

Why Do They Do It?

A March 2012 scientific study helps shed a little light on the subject. According to researcher Dr. Christina Anthony, the average person tells two lies each day. That comes to about 42,000 lies by the age of 60!

“Lying is hard work,” indicates Dr. Anthony. “When people lie, they’re so preoccupied with telling the lie and not revealing the truth that they aren’t able to monitor cues from the listener, which are important for updating expectations about the likely outcome of the conversation. People who lie are more satisfied than truth-tellers if they get a favorable outcome, and more dissatisfied if they get an unfavorable outcome.”

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 Most of us have heard the age-old adage that happy customers tell three people about their experience, but unhappy customers tell 10. So does this research mean that letting liars lie is good for business? Should a business owner stand by the motto, “the customer is always right,” and subsequently get taken advantage of? Should they call out customers on their lies, leaving a customer service nightmare, but leaving work feeling vindicated?

Weigh the Benefits

For many pond businesses, the answer falls somewhere in between. Small fibs that don’t really hurt the bottom line may build customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth advertising. On the other hand, one needs to weigh the benefits against the drawbacks if the dishonesty is going to be hard to handle financially.

Each of our businesses must navigate through the fields of untruths and hopefully resolve each situation with as little damage as possible. Of course, that may not always be the case. The lists and examples below show some of the most common lies we hear, as well as a few solutions and a couple of more unusual and humorous contributions.

Top Lies to Installers

1. “The check is in the mail.” Yes, it’s still at No. 1 — a timeless classic that just never gets old with homeowners.

2. “I paid you when you started/finished.” As if we would not remember something like that!

3. “I have to talk it over with my wife/husband.” Hey, why won’t you take my calls anymore?

4. “We never overfeed the fish.” Then what is that cup of food clogging up the skimmer?

Top Lies to Store Owners

1. “I bought this here and want to return it.” But we don’t even sell that brand!

2. “You told me to pour two gallons of algaecide into the 500-gallon pond.” Wow, look at those fish float…

3. “This is for the school/church/club; can you discount it?”

Top Lies to Internet Stores

1. “I did not receive the item, and I want a refund.” So why does UPS have your signature on file for delivery?

2. “We did not order this.” Hmm. But I have three emails from you asking for a discount, confirmation and tracking.

3. “I found this for less, so I want half of my money back.” But that’s an advertisement from 1998 for a different product.

Bonus (not even a lie, but a truth so strange it has to be shared): “My pump burned out while I was chasing my kids around the dining room table with it plugged in.”

The best response I’ve ever heard to a lie is, “Sometimes, if the moon sits just right, you can find a way to simply lie back!”

Guilt to the Rescue

A dealer told us that a customer had claimed that a light strip did not arrive with their waterfall spillway kit. We checked the warehouse, and an associate remembered placing the strip inside the basin. We asked the customer twice to check inside the basin, but he replied, “No, the light was simply not sent… but I don’t want it now anyway. Just refund me that portion of the kit.”

This clever dealer responded in an email: “OK, sir. Thank you for checking. It will take a few days to get that refund to you. I just took out all the money in the account to pay my college tuition this semester.”

Twenty minutes later, the customer replied and claimed that they had found the strip hidden behind something else. Guilt (and the dealer) won that particular battle.

A Personal Favorite

“I returned that set of 20-watt halogen lights because the lenses melted, and water leaked in,” a customer once contested. “But sir,” I replied, “the box, the instructions and the cord on the light say they must be used underwater to prevent overheating.”

“Yes,” said the customer. “I had them completely underwater.”

“My goodness,” I exclaimed. “There are moth wings and a dragonfly melted into the plastic lens. These lights were clearly above water, as those insects do not swim.”

The customer, becoming very unhappy, shouted, “I will have you know I am a judge with so-and-so county in North Carolina, as well as a youth minister, and you should not be calling me a liar!”

“Then as a judge and a messenger of God, you above anyone should know the importance of honesty in your testimony,” I calmly replied, ending the conversation. This perhaps was not my best response ever, but I slept better that night. And I never heard from him again.

Sort the Wheat From the Chaff

As business owners, we will not see an end to the lying from those who keep us in business. To quote the old saying, it is important to “sort the wheat from the chaff” and determine which lies we are willing to endure, and which we could not possibly stand for.

The following people and companies contributed to this story: Benjamin Timmermans (Liquid Landscapes), Jon Loewy (NC Ponds), Peter Gonzales (The Asla Group) and Max Phelps (Rock Castles Landscaping).
To say I could have written this without them would be… a lie.

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