The 1% Rule: Entrepreneurs Beware

monster with three horns three eyes two hands and a big mouth

Do you still have your high school yearbook? I do. I don’t look at it very often. But when I do, it’s pretty cool to see the pictures of me and my friends. And to read all the comments my friends wrote in it.

But I recently learned that yearbooks have gotten a whole lot better. I learned this when my son Max graduated from the fifth grade last week. I mean, the yearbook he brought home from school was simply incredible.

Hard cover. 200+ pages. Full color. Amazing graphics. Full profile pages for each student. Every class picture since they were in Kindergarten. And so on.

I mean this yearbook crushed my high school yearbook (clearly it crushed my elementary school yearbook too since we never got one).

Now, you see, the yearbook was created by a group of moms. These moms went to the school throughout the year to take pictures of the kids. And they spent hours upon hours meeting with the kids to arrange their personal pages, doing graphic design, formatting and organizing the pages, and dealing with printers.

And all this hard work resulted in an awesome yearbook.

At least that’s what I, and 99% of the parents thought.

But, then the ugly 1% rule reared its ugly head.

The 1% rule is this: simply put, 1% of people are totally insane.

Yup, that’s right. We all know that most people are a bit crazy in at least one way or another. But 1% of us are off the deep end.

And in this case, the 1% was the one mom who balled out the head of the yearbook committee. That’s right, the woman who dedicated tons of hours and took on the responsibility of managing the development of the yearbook got chewed out last week.

By a mom who didn’t like a picture on her daughter’s page and found typos on two other pages.

Now, while most of the others were appalled by this, I just chalked it up to the 1% rule which I’ve seen throughout my business career. Which once again is that 1% of your customers will be totally insane.

And the result of that insanity will be customer service headaches. They will complain that your product or service wasn’t good enough for them. And there will be no way to appease them.

Importantly, while some people are more prone to always be a one percenter, the 1% changes by product and company. Let me explain.

By her own admission, when our customer service manager Raquel was getting married, she became a one percenter with regards to some of her wedding vendors. She wanted everything to be perfect to a point where she became unreasonable (her admission and words, not mine). Clearly this is at least somewhat common judging from the fact that there is a show on TV called “Bridezillas” that documents some of the crazy things that brides do.

And I myself have been a one percenter at times. I hate to admit it, but I’m not the most patient guy in the world. For instance, if you stick me on a long line at the supermarket, I’ll be fine for 5 minutes or so. But when the person two spots ahead of me starts talking to the check-out person and taking way too long to write a check, I start to lose it. I start getting highly irritated and uncomfortable. Which puts me in the 1% state. At that point, I’m irrational. Most likely I’ll have the self-control to keep my mouth shut and complete my transaction. But the wrong question from the check-out person has the potential to set me off.

Now, back in the day, the 1% rule was bad. If 1% of your customers were unhappy, they’d stop frequenting your business. And they might tell their neighbors and/or colleagues and convince them to try your competitors.

But today, with Twitter and Facebook, etc., the one-percenters have a lot more power. They can quickly and easily go online and spread highly negative (and undeserved) information about your company.

So, here is my strategy for dealing with the one-percenters:

1. Accept that 1% of your customers will be lunatics. Remember it’s not you, it’s them. Note that while Zappos provides unparalleled customer service, I was easily able to find a bunch of Twitter and other postings from people saying highly negative things about the company. Likewise, virtually all great products on that have nearly a 5-star average review will have at least a handful of people giving the product just one star.

2. Don’t argue with the one-percenters. The one-percenters are irrational. It’s like arguing with a child who’s having a temper tantrum. You will not change their mind. If they are calling and yelling at you, say things like “I understand,” “that makes sense,” etc. Let them feel right, since in their minds they are right and there’s no convincing them otherwise.

3. Conduct research from the one-percenters. The one-percenters will often give advice if you don’t argue with them. For example, after hearing them out and not arguing, ask them, “do you have any suggestions regarding how we could make our product or service better or avoid similar problems in the future.” Oftentimes they will make a solid point here. You will learn what set off their irrationality in the first place. And you can try to fix the issue to lower your one-percent (meaning that 1% is the average lunacy rate; while yours will never be 0%, you could decrease it over time).

4. Rally your troops if you are being attacked online (e.g., a one-percenter is bashing you via social media). Your troops are your supporters, mainly your satisfied customers. While you don’t want your satisfied customers to attack the one-percenters (remember, you don’t want to argue with nor attack the one-percenters; this will only make matters worse), you can get them to come to your rescue.

Email them that someone is someone is saying bad things about you. And give them a forum (e.g., your Facebook fan page) to say positive things about your company. Hopefully the large numbers of positive comments will drown out any negative ones posted by the one-percenter.

Importantly, you need to incorporate these four tactics into your company’s plan to deal with one-percenters. And your team must know the plan, since they will be the first to hear about the problem and the first to respond. Also, make sure your team members know not to take the one-percenter’s comments personally.

Importantly, if you’re finding that in your business, the 1% rule is actually 2% or 3%, etc., then maybe there is something truly wrong with how you are conducting your business. In this case, survey your customers to better understand what they like and dislike about your company, and work to make constant improvements.