client shows up without an appointment, despite repeated requests not to

A reader writes:

I run a small business that sells specialty items online on behalf of clients who either ship items to us or schedule appointments to make drop-offs at our office. We have prominent signage at our front door that says appointments are required to make drop-offs, and that information is also on our website and reiterated in emails with clients. We have never had a problem with this arrangement until recently.

We have been working with a client for the past few months who stops by the office without any appointment. He’s done this more than a dozen times. We have dropped the subtle “we didn’t know you had an appointment today” and the not subtle “be sure to make an appointment next time so we can better assist you.” He either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care at all. He always says something like, “Oh, I just thought I’d drop by.” To which we again respond, “Well, next time make an appointment.” He drives an hour each way to come to our office. He shows up about once every week or two, but one week he showed up four(!!) times.

His visits have lasted anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour. Sometimes he comes with a car full of items, sometimes it’s just one or two things that aren’t even valuable. He really wants to talk about the history of the items and would stay all day if we let him. Our staff is polite, but we’ve had to become more brusque about moving him out the door.

He’s even arrived at moments when we’re all heading to lunch or on errands, but we felt obligated to put our plans on hold and oblige him knowing that he’s driven an hour. He doesn’t grasp the inconvenience at all, even when we’ve told him that we’re all in the parking lot because we’re about to leave. He just says, “Okay, I’ll make it quick.”

He has some valuable items, but the time our staff spends with him eats into our profit margin and we’re all just annoyed. I should also say that he is older than all of us by about 30 years. So part of me wonders if he (a 60-year-old man) is just not taking me (a 35-year-old woman) seriously when I say that he needs to make an appointment.

Should we just deal with his unexpected visits and consider them the cost of doing business with a kooky client? Or do you have a script we can use to finally get him to understand the concept of an appointment?

Well, I think he’s not taking your seriously in part because you’re letting him get what he wants every time. So you’re saying “you need to make an appointment” but your actions are conveying “we don’t really mean that.” And your actions are clearly all he’s concerned with.

Right now you’re operating as if you have to do anything he wants — and letting him treat you and your staff awfuly disrespectfully — and I’m curious about why. Is he bringing in enough revenue (once you subtract out the time wasting and the annoyance) that he’s worth continuing to accommodate? Or if he stops coming because you enforce your rules, will you be okay with that outcome? Some clients are valuable enough that businesses make calculated decisions to accommodate their demands, no matter how rude. Is he one of them?

If he is, then there’s your answer. But from your letter, I suspect he’s not, and this is more about you and your staff not wanting to be impolite.

But there’s nothing impolite about having reasonable rules, clearly explaining them, and then sticking to them. Maybe you make an exception once or twice when you can do it without major inconvenience. But politeness doesn’t require you to let a client to completely rewrite how you operate.

In fact, I’d argue that allowing it is impolite to your other clients, who do follow your rules. This guy is jumping the line in front of them whenever he feels like it and you’re opening the door and saying “come on in.” It’s also unfair to your staff, who have to drop everything when this guy shows up.

If you want him to make an appointment, you’ll have to enforce that. That means that the next time he shows up unscheduled, you’ll need to say, “I’m sorry, we’re booked up today and don’t have time for any appointments that aren’t already on our schedule. Like we’ve mentioned before, we need you to schedule in advance so we can set aside time to see you. How about next Tuesday afternoon?” And hold firm — because what’s the purpose of having the rule at all if someone can break it over and over again and always be accommodated?

However, since he’s been allowed to ignore your rules with impunity up until now, it would be a kindness to give him one clear, final warning first. The next time he shows up without an appointment, you could say, “We can see you this final time without an appointment, but going forward we’ll need you to call in advance to schedule a time first. We’ve been making an exception but we can’t do that anymore.” And also: “I know you live an hour away. I don’t want you to make that drive for nothing, so I want to make sure you know ahead of time that if you come by without an appointment next time, we won’t be able to see you.”

You also can set boundaries on how long his visits last. If a typical appointment should be 20 minutes, you can tell him that when he schedules the next one (“We’ll set aside 20 minutes for you at 2:00 on Tuesday”) and again when he arrives (“I have 20 minutes set aside for you, so let’s jump right in”).

And you can set boundaries in the same way around things like lunch — “I’m sorry, we’re not available now. Please call to make an appointment and we’ll be glad to set up a time to meet.” Period. If he says he’ll make it quick, you say, “We don’t even have a few minutes right now, but give us a call and we’ll be happy to get you scheduled.”

You’re feeling obligated because you know he made a long drive — but you’ve done all you can to avoid that happening. At this point, he’s knowingly choosing to take that risk. It’s not on you.

He might look sad or disappointed or frustrated or even angry the first time you hold firm. That’s okay! You don’t need to manage his emotions. You just need to be reasonable and fair, and the rest is up to him.

But assume he’s going to do what you let him do. If you don’t want him to keep showing up without an appointment, you’ve got to stop accommodating him when he does.

{ 269 comments… read them below }

  1. learnedthehardway*

    I would handle this by calling the client now (ie. while he’s NOT at your place of business) and have a conversation about the fact that his unexpected drop-ins are disrupting your business operations. Put it in terms of “We want to give you and all of our clients our best service, and doing that means that we need you to book an appointment with us. We are more than happy to accommodate appointments, but we need to prepare beforehand and we need to be able to give you our full attention. I hope you can understand that going forward, we won’t be able to accommodate unannounced visits. Let’s book an appointment now, so that we’re ready – in fact, we can book a recurring appointment, if you feel this would help you.” Throw in language about COVID and the need to maintain social distancing and minimal people in the office/facility at one time.

    And then…. stick to it. Refuse to accommodate a drop in visit. Tell him you are on your way out / about to have another appointment / whatever, and tell him the best you can do is to book an appointment for later in the week. Then, actually LEAVE, if he doesn’t get the message (even if all you do is drive away for a coffee.) One or two experiences of this should do it.

    If not, then you’re going to have to make a decision about whether you want to fire him as a client, or what else you can do to make it worth doing business with him.

    Personally, I’ve only ever fired a client once, and it was because he was straight-up abusive. In some situations, though, I’ve increased my fees for difficult clients (some of them have complained, but they’ve paid, probably because other people simply won’t work with them). I call this my PITA-Tax.

    1. ThatGirl*

      I would agree with giving him a heads up/drawing that line firmly. And then you HAVE to stick to it.

    2. Cheesehead*

      I was just coming here to say this: be proactive. Call him and tell him that going forward, he’ll need an appointment. It’s November now, so you can always say that you’re gearing up for the holiday rush and you wanted to give him a heads up that walk-in visits won’t be possible going forward, and you don’t want him to make the drive without having an appointment. Then even after the holidays, you can say that you’re still busy and he still has to make an appointment, but hopefully his habits would have been changed by then anyway.

      But you WILL have to be prepared to lay it on the line with him once bluntly, and you WILL have to be prepared to turn him away at the door and/or ignore him if he does show up without an appointment.

      1. Amaranth*

        I think couching it softly in terms that imply they’d normally be delighted to have walk-ins is setting up for the client to still consider themselves an exception, and to just start showing up again as soon as they feel holidays are over.

    3. Brad, the coffee drinking, dog loving, extrovert*

      Lookit, this guy is a CUSTOMER.

      Alison is forgetting her Peter Drucker. The CUSTOMER is why a business exists.

      You don’t get to think about demanding customers the way you would unruly schoolkids. Whether the customer is ruuuuuude or doesn’t value my tiiiime DOESN’T MATTER.

      If you want a successful business, the fact that he’s interrupting errands DOESN’T MATTER.

      The only thing that matters is: (1) does this customer add marginal value to my business? (2) What is the opportunity cost of foregoing this customer and doing something else with my time?

      If you can’t look at the problem this way, you’re monetizing a hobby (like a lot of wineries), not running a business.

      If the customer is bringing such low value merchandise that you’re losing money on him on the margin, do what Alison says. (Your staff time is mostly a fixed, not variable, cost for these purposes – so this is a high hurdle.) If he is crowding out other, higher value customers, do what Alison says.

      This is an Etsy antiques business or something adjacent to that, so I doubt this is the case, but who knows.

      1. Alex*

        the customer is not always right. I work at a consulting firm, a type of business known for taking all comers if the price is right, and even we reject clients sometimes. Some people are unbearable to deal with, even if they do make you money, and it’s ok to draw a line there if you’ve got plenty of other clients. That being said, it sounds like this guy hasn’t reached that stage yet. If they try firmly but politely enforcing the rules and he still doesn’t comply, then it could be time to investigate the cost benefit of firing him.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Oh God, yes. The unbearable ones cost you in terms of time and aggravation, and it’s just not worth it.

      2. Nonny*

        The business always has the right to refuse service and decide how to run their business.

        The phrase you quoted about the customer is always right is in the context don’t argue with the customer when they tell you what they want – to be taken like don’t try to tell someone who is mad that they aren’t mad. Only the customer can tell you what they want, and they are always right.

        1. Massmatt*

          I like your explanation/interpretation of this phrase, which has always annoyed me. I mean, everyone knows the customer can’t always be right about everything.

          “I just paid for the pack of gum with a $1,000,000 bill, where’s my change?”–am I aways right?

          Bad customers are always quick to quote the “customer is always right” phrase when they demand something unreasonable or ridiculous.

        2. Brad, the coffee drinking, dog loving, extrovert*

          Quite telling that I did not say “the customer is always right,” but instead quoted Peter Drucker, who says that the customer is why a business exists. And I gave two criteria for determining whether the customer ought to be retained.

          On whether the customer is actually a supplier, that is an interesting point – but if so, it sounds like this is an industry where suppliers have power over businesses. Remember your Porter analysis.

          At any rate, the point is that you need to analyze this as a business decision, not a hobbyist decision. That means “but the customer is ruuuuuude” does not settle the question.

          If your bread and butter stakeholder is rude, then you may need to put up with rude.

          1. BuildMeUp*

            Your repeated use of over-exaggerated phrases like “the customer is ruuuuude” really don’t match the tone of the letter writer, which makes you come off as mocking and a bit immature. We don’t really talk to/about letter writers or other commenters like that here.

          2. Kella*

            It sounds like only business model you’re familiar with is one where your target demographic is jerks with money. Friendly customers usually don’t appreciate being deprioritized by jerks, and top performing employees usually find somewhere else to work that doesn’t require tolerating rude people as part of their job. There are actually quite a few other demographics that exist and quite a few businesses that successfully sell to them.

          3. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

            Customers don’t get to dictate how you run your business though.

            If OP was running a coffee shop that opened at 10am, and someone insisted on turning up at 7am, I’m sure you wouldn’t recommend that she fling open her doors because CUSTOMER!

            (It would be a different thing if she had no customers because they all wanted early coffee and were going to her competitors. Then she might want to reconsider her business model, which is not the same thing as caving in to customer demands.)

          4. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I have no idea who these names you keep mentioning are, never come across them so it’s rather off putting to be told to ‘remember’ something that is irrelevant here.

            Fact of the matter is, if you let your staff be treated badly, do nothing to stop it happening etc. you’ll lose your staff.

            And any company that needs more than one person to run it needs staff. There’s more to consider than one clueless customer.

          5. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

            First off, the way you are hypothetically quoting the OP/commenters/business owners in this scenario as whining, with extended vowels, is quite rude. This is a professional space.

            Second, your insistence on “analyzing this as a business decision” has already been taken into account by both the OP and Alison. The OP states that the client has some high-value items and some worthless ones, and that the time given to accommodate their need for attention is eating into profit margins. Ostensibly, then, there is a hypothetical future time when the client will be COSTING the business money if this gets worse. There is no sign that this client is the backbone of the business, nor does OP say that they accommodate the client because they depend on his products. In fact, they say it is because they feel bad for him having driven an hour, and they would in fact prefer he go away and come back later rather than taking in his product immediately, implying they are not desperate for his business. It sounds like they are the ones indulging a hobbyist.

            Alison also acknowledges in her answer that, if he is a very important client, many business give extra consideration to the inconveniences of important clients because it’s worth it in the end. So no one at all is saying that they don’t want to deal with this client despite him bringing in money. In fact, there’s nary a mention of firing the client at all. They just want him to obey the rules. Surely you acknowledge that it’s reasonable for a business to have rules governing how they receive product from clients, to keep their business profitable and running smoothly?

            Third, you do in fact have a responsibility to the longevity of your company to curate clients and customers if you are able. What if OP’s company grows to the point where they are fully booked with appointments, and they need to lose or postpone work for other clients when this one shows up? Should they permit him to jump the line, even if he isn’t that valuable a client? This is essentially what’s already happening, only not as extreme.

            Fourth, clients are not the same as customers.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              I once left a small (tiny) business because they had the attitude of ‘whatever our clients want is mandatory’ and that became me, the sole woman there, having to take some truly hair raising creepy letching and abuse and ‘I want a meeting at 10pm in the office alone with you’ because I wasn’t allowed to ever tell a client that they couldn’t do something. It got up to one threatening my life if I didn’t agree to ‘just a hug’.

              Extreme example, but firmly cemented my ‘I am not an object for the customer’s every whim’ attitude. It’s perfectly good business to set limits, treat clients well and not be an absolute doormat to their every whim.

      3. Colette*

        I’d argue that he’s more a supplier than a customer. He’s not the one spending money; he’s the one supplying goods.

        But “do we make a little money off of him” isn’t the only test. It’s also “what is the cost of doing business with him” – and if the answer is “two employees quit because of him” or “we have to pay overtime because he’s putting us behind” or “my other customers are seeing him skip the line and want to do the same” or even “people don’t want to come to work because he might show up and mess up their day”, those are valid reasons to enforce the same boundaries other people are living with.

        1. Momma Bear*

          Agreed. If my supplier can’t do things the way I need them done, there are other suppliers. I think what the OP and Brad need to remember is that this one person is unilaterally deciding that his time is more valuable than anyone else. If other people abide by the rules, then he can. Catering to him is just creating a monster. It is not OP’s “fault” that this guy drives an hour. So what. I bet other people who make appointments drive that far, too. He’s not extra special for any reason. OP and their company need to remind this guy, firmly, how their business is done.

        2. Koalafied*

          Agreed. I very much do “get to” think about whether I want to put up with someone being rude to me – even if they’re a customer. When I put on my work hat I don’t suddenly lose the right to be treated with respect or feel negative about it if I’m not. I don’t appreciate the attempt to position the desire for a respectful working relationship where people honor their agreements as some kind of whiny, entitled, unrealistic expectation. Sure, sometimes you do have to let customers behave badly if you really need them – but even when you have to DO that, you still “get to” think about him exactly how you think about him.

      4. BuildMeUp*

        Alison addressed this in the second paragraph of her response; she didn’t forget anything.

        It seems like you’re saying the only options for the LW are to accept the customer’s behavior or lose them as a customer. That’s really not the case, unless the customer is wholly unreasonable.

        And even if the customer is making the LW money, that doesn’t mean he just gets to do whatever he wants and treat her and her employees however he wants. There is a middle ground here.

        1. another Hero*

          ^^^she’s very clear in saying op should decide whether assisting this person is worth the cost, Brad

      5. All the cats 4 me*

        I think I disagree with characterizing this person as a customer, I would consider this more of a co-venturer relationship. However, in either case, businesses sometimes have to make the hard decision that customers/clients/partners must be fired for the good of the business.

        It is NOT always valid to say the ‘customers/clients/partners’ is always right, for all the reasons Alison detailed above.

      6. Massmatt*

        The customer is certainly acting as you describe, but that doesn’t mean the business has to accede to this demand. MANY businesses have “by appointment only” rules, especially now, and stick to them. In my area, bank branches are by appointment only (and only for certain transactions that require FTF meeting), if you come knocking on the door without an appointment you will be told to leave.

        It sounds like this guy is lonely and has lots of time on his hands so is using trips to this business as a social outlet. That’s not what this business is for.

        Alison’s script is good, I like the idea of being proactive with it vs: waiting for him to come in again. Be prepared for it to be awkward, he will be unhappy, he will probably ignore the boundary (he has so far because you’ve let him) at least at first, and you need to be prepared to lose his business.

        Part of the beauty of having your own business is you don’t answer to a boss or corporate HQ; if you don’t want to work with someone you can say no to their business.

      7. Koalafied*

        You might want to check the “i” key on your keyboard – it seems to have gotten stuck in your third paragraph.

      8. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

        “You don’t get to think about demanding customers the way you would unruly schoolkids. ”

        Like hell I don’t. Our business has lots of customers, some who are more needy than others and that is to be expected. Someone who treats us like they’re our ONLY customer is not one we need to keep on the client list.

        1. Quill*

          Oh, you get to THINK whatever you want about a customer.

          Whether you say anything about it depends on how much you need their business.

      9. LGC*

        I was about to get heated, but…you’re not fully wrong. But even using your test, at the very least it sounds like there’s some opportunity cost as LW noted in her letter – she actually says that the time they spend with him eats into the business’s profit margins.

        And the staff time might not be a fixed cost – that’d be true if they’re salaried but as you note, this sounds like an antiques shop or consignment business (or something of the sort). If they’re spending more time working because of this guy, yeah, that either causes labor to go up or things to go undone.

      10. animaniactoo*

        Is he the ONLY customer? Is his value so unique that the business will go under without it?

        If not, you can absolutely think about and treat him like an unruly schoolchild. Alison addressed the question of whether he was a valuable enough customer to continue accommodating him.

        But frankly – when you have a customer who is THIS disruptive, he is going to affect the rest of your business in the following ways:

        1) Staff morale and turnover
        2) Decreased time/service to other customers

        Both of which mean that your other customers are getting a shorter shrift than you intend to give and that could well be financially and reputationally detrimental to your business – far more than whatever marginal value he brings in. Holding all customers – including him – to boundaries that prevent that is part of serving all customers.

        So yeah – when the customers are out of line? You work to bring them back in line for the smooth operation of your business – which is beneficial to everyone, including him.

      11. Archaeopteryx*

        “The customer is always right” means that that can order whatever they want on their burger even if you think it’s a gross combination.

        It does NOT mean that customers are tyrants who get to abuse retail staff, make up their own self-serving rules, and stomp all over polite professional boundaries.

        If you make your staff bend unreasonably to the whims if your clients the you won’t have that staff for long.

      12. Tabby*

        Brad, I hate to inform you, but even customers must observe policies and boundaries. I do not allow this kind of foolery for my petsitting business, because I am not bound to do what a customer wants just because they feel entitled to my time. Don’t like it? Find another walker! This doesn’t mean I don’t work with reasonable life-happens things, but this guy? His butt would be fired so fast his hair would be on fire.

        1. Lance*

          All of this. ‘But the money’ can be a fair argument, but you still have time considerations, you still have people working, not unfeeling robots or something of the like. Letting customers stomp over whatever boundaries they like is not a good example to set.

        2. Brad, the coffee drinking, dog loving, extrovert*

          Don’t like it? Find another walker!

          And if enough CUSTOMERS do that, you don’t have a business.

          I’ve no idea what the economics of your business are

          But I would guess that people who don’t walk their own dogs are busy and value convenience, and the ability to make last minute changes to their schedule.

          1. Lance*

            The thing is, I would also guess that the people being paid for doing the walking… are also people. That’s the main issue people are having here, is that you seem to be giving the customers (who, yes, are very important for the business; certainly there’s no denying that) all of the value, while giving the workers (without whom most businesses would, also, not exist) little to none.

            Yes, some people may take issue with it, but enforcing basic rules and respect and teaching said customers to respect them would go a long way.

          2. New Jack Karyn*

            Then they can pay more for that at a premium service. Many folks need a dogwalker on a regular basis–say, every workday at 1 pm–and interruptions to that schedule are almost always able to be notified in advance.

            If a client needs their dogwalker or petsitter on more of an on-call basis (“I have to go to Paris tomorrow, can you see to Fifi for two weeks?”) then maybe Tabby isn’t their person. Maybe they need to pay more for a service model that can do that.

          3. Koalafied*

            For enough customers to do that to put him out of business, enough customers would have to be excessively unreasonable enough that he couldn’t put up with it. In my experience most people in general are not excessively unreasonable.

          4. Kella*

            Convenience, flexibility, and providing quick access are valuable qualities you can offer in your business. You can also cater to a demographic that is more interested in the quality of the service they are getting and the interpersonal business relationships. If everyone followed the “fast and convenient” model, the market would be oversaturated that to stay competitive, you would have to be constantly maxing out your performance levels just to stay in the top five.

          5. Tenebrae*

            I mean, that’s fine if the dogwalker is an automaton who lives in a box until Mr. Demanding needs her. But every customer served represents an opportunity cost. Sure, she’ll keep Mr. Demanding as a customer if she accommodates every demand but will she keep Jane, whose dog only got a half hour walk on Tuesday because Mr. Demanding butted in ahead, Wakeen, whose dogwalking was canceled last minute because Mr. Demanding wanted his slot or Fergus, who never got to meet with her to go over his dog’s special needs because Mr. Demanding kept turning up unexpectedly?

      13. Sue D. O'Nym*

        The customer is not always right, and giving in to them only causes their behaviour to get worse. I used to work in a theme park. Although we were known for good service, there were some rules that we would not break, or even bend, no matter what. I lost track of how many times I had a parent yell at me when I said that their child was not tall enough to meet the safety restrictions. The fact that they were paying customers did not (and should not) impact enforcement of the rules.

        (Most of the time, the kids themselves were pretty cool about it. There were times when I told a kid that they were too short to ride, and their parent kept arguing, and the kid said something like “C’mon dad, he said I’m too short. We can go do something else.”)

      14. Kella*

        “Your staff time is mostly a fixed, not variable, cost for these purposes”

        The cost of employing the staff might be a fixed cost, but the amount of value those staff can bring in per hour is not. If they normally handle 3 clients per hour, and this guy takes up a full hour without bringing in three times as much value, then you’re losing 2/3 of your income for that hour and employees have to work more hours total in order to bring in the same amount of value.

        A customer being rude or interrupting work or ignoring policies is absolutely relevant to the decision of how much value they bring, because business owners and their employees are humans, not robots, and it is of value to them to work with reasonable, considerate people. Bad morale is very expensive. Enforcing boundaries is not.

        1. Tabby Baltimore*

          I really like this metric of “x customers per hour” and the accompanying value they bring, as I think it’s one (very helpful and easy) way for the Letter Writer to measure cost-benefit.

      15. The Other Katie*

        I disagree strongly. This is not a sales transaction, it’s an enduring relationship. Enduring business relationships are built on mutual respect, not thoughtless prioritisation of the customer’s demand.

        1. Self Employed*

          MUTUAL respect. This customer who shows up randomly and ignores the staff telling him he really needs an appointment does not respect the OP or their staff. Yes, the staff are letting him get away with it–but if he respected them, he wouldn’t have shown up without an appointment a second time.

          He doesn’t even consistently provide good products that would make up for the inconvenience of being That Guy.

      16. Dahlia*

        Uh, no.

        If the grocery store opens at 9, they don’t let you in at 8:30 because you’re a customer

      17. Clean Windows*

        Pffft. In my small, residential window cleaning business, we have absolutely fired clients that are a PITA to work with, no matter how high our margin is on their jobs. We’re making more than enough money with people who are decent; we don’t need or want customers who are jerks.

        We’ve had a wife call us for a quote and she was the person we spoke to when we showed up to do the bid, but then on the day of the cleaning, the husband is there and is up in our and our employees’ faces, cussing us out about the price and saying he’s going to follow us window-to-window to make sure he gets every last penny he hasn’t yet paid. We’ve literally said, “Thanks, but no thanks. Have a nice day,” put our equipment back in the van and left.

        And when he left us a nasty review, we responded with an explanation of his behavior and said that we’re pleasant and respectful people who expect the same from our customers. We have gotten new customers based on that response. The good customers really hate it when bad customers are rewarded with an obsequious smile and accommodation.

        You can pick your customers and still have a very successful business.

        1. Youngin*

          I work for a builder and one of my former clients was so nasty to a plumber on site one day that the main guy looked her in the eyes, said eff you, packed his crap and never came back. They burned so many bridges in our city not a single plumber will go to their house at this point. They now have to pay over 2k for a simple visit because they have someone from 2 counties away coming there.

        2. Former Employee*

          I feel sorry for the woman married to that obnoxious man. I doubt it would be as easy for her to pack up and leave as it was for your employees.

          Yes, I am making assumptions, but people who are nice and reasonable or not are generally about the same with everyone, whether it’s trades people or their family members.

      18. dustycrown*

        “This is an Etsy antiques business or something adjacent to that…” Wow. Really? Sorry we can’t all be the CEO of Amazon.

        1. LutherstadtWittenberg*

          He clearly didn’t read the letter. He just wanted to jump down here to prove he was smarter than all of us.

      19. Emma*

        This attitude might make sense if LW is scraping the barrell for suppliers. Maybe they are, but if not? Lay down the law; enforce it; make exceptions only when there is a genuine reason. Either this dude will become easier to work with and less disruptive to business, or he’ll go somewhere else and LW can spend the time they previously spent arguing with him to instead recruit new, easier to work with suppliers.

        This kind of thing has a long-term impact on your staff and your business which needs to be considered separately from the immediate bottom line.

        And, to LW: harness the power of silence, and of giving him a clear decision. “You can either book an appointment with me now, or you can call and book an appointment another time. It’s up to you. *silence*”. Then wait for him to finish speaking and say “No, sorry. You can either book an appointment with me now…”

      20. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        Brad, just because you got your pen from a Carnegie class doesn’t mean that businesses still exist in the 1950s. You stating that customer’s being rude or not-valuing time is contradicted by yourself when you bring in value and opportunity cost. If the customer not valuing your time doesn’t matter, then why should opportunity cost matter? The time of dealing with a customer, and that mental energy needed to deal with them play into the overall transactional costs.

        How a customer values your time is part of the cost of that customer, and it absolutely does matter.

      21. pcake*

        If one demanding customer means putting all the other customers work further back, I would have to protect my staff’s time so they can accommodate the customers who aren’t keeping people from going to lunch or making them push other customers’ work back.

      22. WoodsLord*

        I worked as a Cabinet Designer for a big box.We worked exclusively by appointment. We had two customers a day by appointment, spending a couple of hours with each. The other hours were used to work on the designs as discussed with the customer. A very time intensive job (that I loved).
        When a customer showed and wanted service I would reach for the schedule book and flip it open, offering an appointment.
        We had a new promoted manager in the store who did not understand the procedures. Once, a customer went to him and complained that I was not helping him (I had offered an appointment). The manager came to me and demanded that I help the person then. I opened the book and showed the manager an appointment in twenty minutes. I told the manager that he will need to explain to the appointment customer why I would not be helping them at the scheduled time.
        The walk-in left (angry) and later that day the manager came to me and asked me to show him our entire process.
        Basically, there are some businesses that must work by appointment.

        1. Self Employed*

          What is ridiculous? The cabinetmaker who spends 2 hours on a thorough consultation? I haven’t remodeled a kitchen, but that doesn’t seem unreasonable to me for custom cabinets that need to be fit to the customer’s house.

      23. IrishEm*

        I work customer service. If a customer asks me for a kiss or gets abusive or doe not listen to me or refuses to abide by the rules then I get to terminate that interaction. There’s “The customer is right” and then there’s operational risk.

        Whether the customer is ruuuuuude or doesn’t value my tiiiime DOESN’T MATTER.

        Actually, it DOES MATTER.

        Dealing with this guy who does not accept “you need to make an appointment” and “my staff are all on lunch” and “my staff finish at X time” and treats OP’s company so shoddily is one of those cases where OP needs to remind the customer of their operational boundaries and let there be consequences.

        Because the risks to the business by continuing interacting with the guy as they have been so far are: that staff will have overtime (or unpaid overtime if time and half at irregular times cannot be afforded as a business cost (and the latter is a very quick way to have good people leave an otherwise good job)); other customers who make appointments will see this guy jumping the queue and start copying him leading to a breakdown in the company’s ability to provide its’ service(s) properly to all customers/suppliers within agreed service levels; or causing resentment in the customers who do abide by the rules and who might just disappear without giving explanation and thus affecting the bottom line in another possible way. This is not an exhaustive list just the top examples that come to mind.

        The customer OP writes about needs to be treated like all the company’s other customers: you have to make an appointment, we can’t take drop-ins, my staff need to take their (OSHA mandated) breaks, and they need to leave work on time and can’t stay late if you rock up five minutes before closing with an hour or more’s worth of inventory.

        If you can’t look at the problem this way, you’re monetizing a hobby (like a lot of wineries), not running a business. Way to dismiss SME’s Brad. That was not kind, that was rude and dismissive. And it didn’t take into account the knock-on effects around the one customer that I mentioned above. An individual might not seem like a Big Problem to you, but it can create So Many Small Problems that it isn’t worth continuing to deal with the guy, or it might be worth reminding the customer that there are ways of working with OP’s company that don’t involve devaluing their time or procedures and policies.

      24. MCMonkeyBean*

        The customer is not why a business exists, unless they are in a field like social work which does not seem to be the case. The business exists to make money. Unless this guy is bringing in extremely valuable things it is likely that accommodating him in this way is worse for the business than insisting he stick to the rules as other customers do.

      25. Sacred Ground*

        Huh. For the last 40-50 years, all I’ve heard is that the SHAREHOLDER is why a business exists. Maximizing the returns on the shareholders’ investment is the ONLY real reason a business exists. All other considerations and interests (the employees, the public, the customers) are secondary considerations at best.

    4. merp*

      Agree with this. You know it’s going to happen again so you can help him and yourself avoid whatever reaction he may have after his long drive by calling him in advance.

      (And to be clear, I totally understand why his drive is influencing your reaction but since he clearly doesn’t value your time, you really don’t have to value his at the level you are. Which means even if he ignores this, he’s been warned, and you don’t have to cave.)

    5. Delta Delta*

      This was also exactly my thought. Even make a standing appointment so he knows he gets Tuesday at 2 or whatever.

      1. Chinook*

        I would do the email if he doesn’t listen to your clear request as a way to escalate. If you approach this as a cultural difference, you want to give him a chance to save face while being polite , and putting it in writing to me feels harsher.

        Give him a phone call with clear expectations. If he does it again, a crisp email should reinforce things better. You want a way to escalate this if necessary.

    6. Koalafied*

      I agree with this. I do think he needs one more warning that makes it clear that the rule is going to be enforced without exception going forward, since that is a change from what he’s gotten used to, but I wouldn’t wait until he’s broken the rule again to give that warning. I would tell him in no uncertain terms that staff have been instructed to turn away everyone who shows up without an appointment and that you know he frequently likes to drop by without notice, so you want to be clear with him that going forward he will be turned away if he shows up so that he doesn’t waste his time making the drive.

      Then if he really does need to be turned away to get it through his head that you’re serious, he won’t feel like it was sprung on him without notice, and you won’t be held back by the guilty of feeling like you’re springing it on him without notice.

      1. Brad, the coffee drinking, dog loving, extrovert*

        “I would tell him in no uncertain terms that staff have been instructed to turn away everyone who shows up without an appointment and that you know he frequently likes to drop by without notice, so you want to be clear with him that going forward he will be turned away.”

        What of there’s a competitor down the street who takes walk-ins?

        Unless the letter writer’s business has TREMENDOUS bargaining power, lecturing your CUSTOMERS as if they were errant schoolchildren is a good way to lose them – permanently.

        Everyone is saying that “this person knows exactly what he is doing” as if it were a profound insight.

        Of COURSE he knows what he is doing. He is patronizing this business, going so far as to drive there for one hour, because he values the convenience and flexibility of not having to make an appointment. (It has nothing to do with “he’s lonely.”) That is the VALUE PROPOSITION you are offering him.

        If you change that value proposition, he may go elsewhere.

        If you want him to change his behavior, you need to figure out how to frame your message in the language of BUSINESS, not of a hobbyist. “But mah time” is not the language of a hobbyist.

        This is a challenge because of the cottage industry nature of this company. Small companies survive by being MORE flexible and customer-centric than behemoths, not LESS.

        Suppose after being treated like an errant schoolchildren he decides it’s easier to sell directly on eBay, because eBay offers the convenience you no longer are willing to offer.

        Can your business survive that? Can your business survive that writ large?

        “By appointment only” works for boutique businesses in places like Hollywood or the Upper East Side, with clientele who value EXCLUSIVITY and DISCRETION and a tailored service. Those businesses are delivering the value proposition their customers WANT. Those customers feel validated if you treat the guy off the street as unworthy of your time.

        It does not work for low margin, high turnover retail businesses. Wal-Marts and McDonald’s often stay open 24 hours because that is what their CUSTOMERS want. Tiffany’s does not.

        I once had a third-degree business associate, who was a very wealthy and respected figure from his home country in Central Eurasia. He wanted to buy a very expensive watch from Neiman Marcus on a business trip to Texas. The jewelry department demanded customers make an appointment, but did not care whether it was outside business hours.

        So he made an appointment at 11 pm on a Saturday, and the company obliged. The store made him feel exclusive and important. That is an example of when appointments are what the CUSTOMER wants.

        I could be wrong, but that does not sound like the situation here.

        1. Koalafied*

          You’re acting like having and enforcing standard business policies is some kind of unthinkable ask. It’s not. Businesses do it all the time, and even people who find the policies inconvenient very frequently don’t leave over it because they still like everything else about the business.

        2. Traveler X*

          No, no, no, no. You could not be more wrong. No one is treating this guy like and “errant schoolchild”. Why should he be exempt from the rules that all of the other customers are following? His behavior is obviously disruptive enough to the business that the letter writer felt compelled to write to Alison. They have every right to enforce their rules (just as the customer has every right to take his business elsewhere). The LW may have very good reasons for being appointment only which you seem to dismiss without knowing their situation.

          This business is NOT Neiman Marcus so that’s a false equivalency. And making an appointment at 11pm on Saturday doesn’t prove how accommodating Neiman Marcus is. All it does is prove what an ass the customer is. Someone with no regard for people’s time and only a desire to “ha ha, I’ll show YOU!”

          1. Brad, the coffee drinking, dog loving, extrovert*

            You are illustrating, not refuting, my point Traveler X.

            A business like Neiman Marcus or Lamborghini can implement appointment times because that is what its customers WANT.

            Yes, the customer was an ass. An ass who just spend $50K on a watch.

            He WANTED to make an off-hours appointment because he WANTED everyone in his home country to know that he is a bad-ass.

            Do you think Anna Wintour takes her walk-in ticket to get her hair done at Great Clips?

            1. Jackalope*

              This comment is… truly missing the point here. The OP is not running a subsidiary of Neiman Marcus. She’s not selling Lamborghinis. And the idea of an appointment at a business is… incredibly common, as is the refusal to see someone who is a walk-in. Especially right now, during COVID, many places are using appointments so they can follow health dept guidelines/current state policy/CDC advice/etc.

              And since you insist on believing that the customer’s desires are the only thing that matter, what about the OP’s OTHER customers? You know, the ones who are showing up on time for their appointments and having to wait for someone who can’t be bothered? The ones whose work orders are delayed because the time needed to process them was used with this guy chatting them up so they couldn’t work? What if THEY all decide to take their business elsewhere, and the OP is stuck with just the business from this guy who is being obnoxious?

              For that matter, if you read through the archives on this website, managers letting customers walk all over their employees is a major reason for employees to quit. You may agree with this or not, but the OP can’t stop her employees from going elsewhere if they get too annoyed by this. I don’t know what the costs of training someone in her business are, but it is a non-zero sum, that is added to the time that they will be newbies making rookie errors that can also cost money (and, potentially, customers). This is also a cost of doing business, and by letting this customer walk over her staff the cost will be higher.

              In short, it’s not a “hobbyist” decision to enforce the business policies across the board with all customers. It’s keeping her other customers, and promoting longevity with employees. Not sure which part of that is the part that’s escaping you.

            2. Bastet*

              “Small companies survive by being MORE flexible and customer-centric than behemoths, not LESS.” Or sometimes because the services they offer are so damned good the client KNOWS they won’t find it anywhere else. Without going into whether this “customer” is really a supplier, which is its own issue, sometimes if you want gold, you have to put up with incredibly common “inconveniences” like making an appointment. The state I work in has a limit on how many people can be in a waiting room/common area at any given time currently, so if you show up without an appointment and the common room is full… Too bad. We can be shut down or fined for failing to follow whatever the current state mandates are.

              Even prior to COVID, appointments were still a highly necessary. The law firm I am currently with have attorneys practicing in several different areas, but we do have one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the state. He is always in and out of the office, always in high demand, and absolutely can afford to be choosy about his clientele. He has “fired” many clients before, but with a reputation like his, there are a dozen more waiting to take that spot. If you waste his time- gone. If you don’t pay him – gone. He doesn’t mess around. If you decided to “just show up” and see him, there’s a very good chance he’s either meeting with another client, meeting a client in jail, or in Court. He doesn’t just sit around with “free time” waiting to meet with people. You make an appointment, or you aren’t getting seen, and he makes that VERY clear. We had one woman who thought she was “very important” and cussed out our receptionist when she was told that the attorney was not in the office and she would have to call and make an appointment. She was still carrying on when he did walk in and he told her in no uncertain terms to get the hell out and never come back. His reputation has not suffered in the slightest. I should also mention that where I work isn’t exactly the boonies — criminal defense attorneys are a dime a dozen, so there are PLENTY of other options.

              Personally, I have also gone out of my way for something that truly matters to me. Though there are many doctors closer to where I work and live, I travel an hour to see my current specialist even though his location and hours are less than convenient for me, because he is an excellent doctor. Sure, I could choose another specialist, but this guy truly listens and is the best at what he does, so why would I sacrifice that for someone less than great?

              Another example– we had a crepe shop in town with just okay coffee, but they were the only place within an hour driving distance that made homemade crepes. Even though there were many other coffee shops and chains around, I’d end up there frequently because they fulfilled a need no other business in the area did — those delicious crepes. The coffee may have just been barely passable, but I knew I wasn’t getting that homemade goodness anywhere else.

              A company with an excellent reputation, or one that provides a one of a kind service to an area, can certainly afford to take a hit better than a less than well known place where there are a million similar businesses.

              1. Sacred Ground*

                The specialty auto repair/customizer/restoration shop that I worked for years ago worked that way as well. We had a handful of mechanics, all specialists and their time always in demand. Work had to be carefully scheduled and new projects had to be incorporated with existing projects. ALL new customers had to make an appointment just to drop off their cars with us because we simply didn’t have the space to park them when not working on them. This wasn’t Jiffy-Lube or Pep Boys here. We were simply not able to accommodate walk-ins due to the nature of the work. All of our customers knew this and worked with us because that’s how we had to do business and we stayed busy all the time.

                Small businesses, especially those with a good reputation in a niche market, are *more likely*
                to require appointments because its the only way to manage strong demand. If you as a customer absolutely insist on immediate walk-in service, you can always go somewhere else with less of a reputation or fewer other customers or poorer time management.

                If someone at that custom car shop wanted or needed immediate service and to jump the line ahead of other clients, they’d be directed to one of our competitors who DID provide such service without an appointment OR they could pay an exorbitant “rush” charge. We might have lost a few as a result, customers who did not value our strong reputation in a niche industry enough to pay that charge or wait for an appointment. And that was fine. We had more than enough customers who did so it didn’t matter. If anything, this shop had such a strong reputation in the specialty car culture of that city, precisely because of their expertise and quality of work, that they had more customers than they could handle without a strict appointment schedule.

          2. VintageLydia*

            Even cheap salons run by appointments, and will make walk-ins wait, sometimes for hours, if they don’t have room in the schedule, including to allow for lunch breaks. Standing by appointments is not a weird or unusual thing in business.

        3. Insert Clever Name Here*

          Oh man — you’re the LW’s client, aren’t you? There’s really no other reason for why you’re so hyped up about this. Make the appointment like an adult.

          1. pope suburban*

            I admit I thought it too. If this isn’t the specific customer, it’s someone who behaves similarly, and is embarrassed to be called out, even indirectly, by this post. Personally, I would think that reevaluating my behavior and making changes would be a better use of time and energy than talking down to everyone here, but the world takes all kinds, I suppose.

        4. Tidewater 4-1009*

          You may not believe the customer is lonely and bored, but this happens all the time. American culture is severely lacking in social activities for people who are not into church, happy hour, or sports leagues.
          Having both seen and experienced this, OP’s description screams “lonely and bored” to me, as well as that he enjoys the company of her and her staff enough to drive the 2-hour round trip several times a week. I’m sure he has little else to do. I think this is his main motivation, not business or being rude.
          OP should gently enforce the rules with him and if possible, point him towards social activities he could do instead of coming to her business so much.

          1. mgguy*

            Heck, in COVID times, even if you are involved in your church or whatever, you may well have been cut off from that for better than 6 months now.

            Given that the LW has said elsewhere that the guy was perfectly content to come back the next day when they told him no, I read into that(maybe wrongly) that maybe the guy said “Well, at least I got out of the house for a few hours today even if I didn’t get to stop in and visit.”

            Aside from that, without knowing the location, I wonder if there’s a bit of a cultural mis-match at play. In the south, having a “loafing spot” is not an uncommon thing. I’ve been to plenty of small stores where yes, coming in to buy is the reason they exist, but also encourage lingering/visiting with the staff and other customers. A camera store that, pre-COVID, I went to once or twice a week(to the point that they’d call and see if I was okay if I missed two or three Fridays in a row-my afternoon) had a half dozen chairs in a U-shape in the center of the shop. A gun store that closed a few years ago had a dozen comfy chairs, a coffee pot, and a pegboard for regulars to leave a cup there. In places like that where it’s normal/expected, there’s also an unspoken etiquette of stopping in mid-sentence if needed for them to tend to a walk-in non-regular customer(and also be willing to go to the back of the line if you’re buying). You also don’t take the good parking spots :) . Of course also I don’t go to places like that unless I actually buy from them too-the camera store had fun “hiding” things in plain sight that they knew I’d likely buy or at least catch my interest, and time how long it took me to notice them.

            Still, though, maybe the guy thinks that the LW is okay with the LW’s business being treated that way, or maybe the guy is from a place where that sort of stuff is common and the LW’s location isn’t such a place. That doesn’t mean it’s okay for the guy to do it, but the more subtle hints might not also work.

            1. Electric sheep*

              A place to store your own mug for regular visits! Certainly different to anything I’ve seen but sounds lovely for the people enjoying it.

          2. TardyTardis*

            That was my first thought, too. I expect he comes in just for interaction. (I have a retired husband, I know this one).

          3. MCMonkeyBean*

            Lonely and bored is exactly what I was thinking as well!

            I’m not sure if OP is worried that enforcing the rules will drive away his business but I definitely think they should consider 1) if that is a risk they are willing to take (and I think the answer should be yes) and 2) how likely that really is.

            Given the fact that it seems he is being thoughtless in disregarding their rules and their time but OP does not make it seem like he is otherwise unpleasant in their interactions, and the fact that he seems to like to chat with them, and the fact that he is coming this often from so far away… I think it is likely he just enjoys coming and talking to them about his items. If they force him to follow the rules, I think it is likely he will still come. He might be irritated the first time you turn him away but I think the relationship is likely to survive you standing your ground, and may even improve if making him follow the rules allows the employees to stop being annoyed by him.

        5. Name (Required)*

          Tiffany, not ‘Tiffany’s’.

          And there’s nothing wonderful about a customer and an employer treating staff like servants whose mere existence is only to feed the ego of jerks like your business associate.

        6. peggysue*

          dear lord, write like a professional. The tone of all of your responses is more appropriate for a drunk uncle on facebook.

        7. MCMonkeyBean*

          If this guy is driving an hour both ways to do business with them then clearly there is not a lot of competition around.

          I’m honestly baffled at your very weird opinion on “by appointment only” businesses. That is an extremely normal and common policy and many different places in many different fields.

    7. Blue*

      Yes agreed!! I think this approach (calling him today rather than waiting til he shows up) seems more clear and firm than giving in one last time.

    8. JSPA*

      Nah. Let him waste his time, not yours. He shows up randomly? “I’m sorry, we don’t have anyone available today, as we have a series of video and phone consultations scheduled. Let me check [make him wait at least a minute]…we have time for a 30 minutes zoom pre-consult on [date/time or date/time] or an hour on [date/time]. Do either of those work for you?”

      If you must, this broadcast email: “due to covid, we’ve been doing video pre-consultations as a safety measure, and have found it’s better for the pieces and the clients, as well. We highly encourage you to schedule a video pre-consultation, followed by an in-office visit as needed. Drop-ins, always discouraged, will no longer be allowed.”

      Then put a fricking lock on the door, and buzz people in. If my local two-person frame shop can figure out how to do this, so can you.

    9. Youngin*

      I feel like throwing Covid out there as a reason when its not applicable is wrong. The virus is going to eventually go away, and now that excuse you used is not in play anymore, so surely he can go back to poppin in right?

      Im also hesitatnt to think that a call would work, he hasnt been reasonable thus far so whats to say the words being spoken over the phone are gonna stick any better than the words he was told in person?

      Agreed with the PITA tax

  2. AdAgencyChick*

    PLEASE fix this broken stair. Either he huffs off and you lose him as a client, which I bet is going to feel like a huge weight off when it happens, or he learns to abide by your rules and he’ll be easier to deal with that way.

  3. *daha**

    Got a lobby or waiting room? Let him chill in it for an hour until you can “free” time to see him.

    1. Clorinda*

      If not, he can chill (literally, perhaps) in his car in the parking lot. And every time he comes, the wait gets ten minutes longer.
      Or just tell him no and stick to it. You’ve trained him that he can come whenever he wants, and retraining people is awfully hard.

      1. Weekend Please*

        And definitely don’t do a car full of stuff with no appointment. If you legitimately have time, tell him you can do one or two items but he will have to make an appointment to come back with the rest. Or just say that it looks like a big job and you don’t have time to handle it right then and ask him when he would like to come back.

    2. Koalafied*

      Alternately, is there a way you can lock the door and hang a By Appointment Only sign and be out of view of the door, so he literally can’t get inside when he pops by?

      1. Youngin*

        This is what we do at my office. Locked door, but we have a Ring. So if someone comes with no appointment, we decline via the speaker in the Ring. (I work in construction so wanna be subcontractors are always soliciting, this is the only way we have been able to without hearing a 5 minute script about why their product is right for us).

    3. Amaranth*

      If he’s extremely chatty I could see any receptionist then having to deal with him wanting to talk about his drive, his items, etc. Four times in a week? Eight hours in driving? It might not be accurate but I’m picturing this as someone semi-retired who sees this as a social interaction and is lonely and/or bored.

      1. Nanani*

        I was thinking maybe he already had a reason to make the drive – appointments, seeing family, some hobby or something – and so “the drive” won’t work as an excuse because he’s making it anyway.
        Even if he just really likes driving that many hours, his convenience isn’t as important as LW’s staff being able to take their lunch breaks.

        1. animaniactoo*

          Guaranteed whoever else he’s seeing, he’s telling them “I’m dropping stuff of at X, so I’ll be in the area.”

    4. JerryTerryLarryGary*

      This. Schedule him for later in the day. “Squeeze” him in an hour. Don’t let him wait inside. Suggest a standing appointment.

  4. Mel_05*

    You have to stick to your own rules. I worked for a business owner who wouldn’t do that, but the clients weren’t spending enough to make breaking the rules worth the extra work. That company is struggling financially now and they still don’t understand why.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      The infamous customers who come in just before closing to “browse” or who simply want to talk. We had a manager like that, they had a hard time saying no and would waste an hour with someone who had no intention of buying while real dollars walked out the door because the customers were tired of waiting for service.

    2. MusicWithRocksIn*

      Yes! Employees will respect you SO much more if you enforce rules with customers, and don’t allow them to be walked all over. I promise that sticking to your guns with this guy will earn you a ton of credit with your employees and make them much happier.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        And *good* customers who follow the rules and don’t make extra trouble do NOT appreciate seeing the rude and pushy customers getting served ahead of them.

  5. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Stop thinking about his drive!

    Both the driving and the hanging-out-and-chatting behavior indicate that he doesn’t value his time highly, or he has nothing else to do.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      He does sound kind of lonely. But that doesn’t mean he can’t make an appointment like everyone else is supposed to do.

    2. Sue*

      Agree. And ask any barber, coffeeshop, small post office..they have the “customers” who really just want to hang out and talk and talk..
      Loneliness and/or really enjoys the sound of their own voice. As the next in line, very aggravating.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      Nothing else to do: This is exactly what it sounds like. He is bored, and this is something for him to do.

    4. Sara without an H*

      My guess is that he’s probably retired and bored out of his mind. OP, however, is trying to run a business, and needs to start enforcing her own rules.

    5. lemon*

      Yes, definitely sounds lonely/bored, with lots of time on his hands. Part of the issue might be that he thinks that appointments are for his/the customer’s convenience, and may not realize that they are actually for the sake of the business. The LW keeps telling him to make an appointment, but she’s phrasing it in polite “so we can help you better,” terms. He may figure that since he has time to waste, he doesn’t really care about his convenience.

      1. Zelda*

        Exactly this! What LW has said is practically a two-by-four between the eyes to native speakers of, say, Minnesotan or Carolinian. But to a person who is, for either cultural or biological reasons, more literal-minded, it barely registers as a hint. And the actual fact is that, so far, this fellow *doesn’t* need an appointment– because they alsways see him without one. LW must be completely crystal by telling him in so many words, “You need an appointment because if you show up without one, we will turn you away.” And then tell him that again in actions, if necessary.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      He knew he had an hour drive each way BEFORE he left the house WITHOUT an appointment. I am trying to figure out how this works in his mind.
      “Uh, I have an hour drive each way. I don’t have an appointment. Okay, I will just hop in my car and drive over there.”

      I have to point out that some people looove driving for the sake of driving. It’s nice if there is a point to it, such as a destination. But driving with no particular destination in mind is fine also. Personally, I don’t enjoy driving so that trip sounds like a chore to me. However, I witnessed my husband drive THREE hours each way to buy a couple pounds of cheese. He loved driving. It was a bonus to pick up cheese along the way.

      You probably care more about his one hour drive than he does.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        I think it’s more like someone else said above–he’s heading over to Town X anyway for something else. Then he says to himself, “Hey, how about I stop by OP Place of Business?” and throws something in the backseat.

    7. Chinook*

      First, I agree whole heartedly about fixing the broken stair and nipping this activity in the butt.

      I do disagree, though, that this behaviour is definitely a sign of disrespect or boredom (though it is a definite possibility). It could be a cultural difference, especially a rural vs. urban one.

      Where I was raised, building relationships are as important as the business transaction. It would be rude to come in, drop something off, and leave without some type of small talk about the weather, family or the transaction itself. If it was a brief interaction, the other party would wonder if they done something to make the person leaving quickly angry. There is a whole etiquette around how to have such a brief interaction without leaving a negative interaction that “city folk” don’t understand and can even feel like a waste of time. What to the OP seems disrespectful may be the customer doing his best to show you that he values your expertise and work.

      The good news for the OP, though, is that you solve this problem the same way even if it is a cultural misunderstanding by doing what AAM suggests. He needs to understand that you don’t have the time, not because you don’t like him but due to your business model.

      1. WS*

        Same where I live – but Alison is still correct about setting firm boundaries. I used to have a customer who had a “medication emergency” every second weekend by running out of her (many, many) tablets or so so that we’d have to stay late or go into work to help her. The solution there was calling her every Friday to check her medication with her. She appreciated the contact and the concern, and we could do it at a time that suited us.

  6. Just stoppin' by to chat*

    I got a sense of loneliness from this letter with regard to the client. I.e. that they’re looking for someone to talk to and share stories about items that are valuable to them. Not saying the LW and their staff should accommodate. Just to provide some context.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I was going to say the same thing about this client. He might not even plan on making a trip until he wakes up and decides he needs to be around people. It’s possible he has so many items to sell – valuable or not – because of death(s) in the family, and he’s still reeling.

      I agree that he needs to abide by OP’s rules, and OP needs to hold firm to them, too. Still, he seems…lost.

      1. Xavier Desmond*

        I think it means that while enforcing the rules and being firm, then the OP should still be polite and friendly. If the customer was just being a dick then I think the OP wouldn’t have to worry as much about being nice

      2. Jackalope*

        If I thought he were lonely, I would still recommend that the LW set firm boundaries and stick to them, but I would also cut him a little more slack at his appointments. So that would mean not letting him drop by just whenever, but also giving him some extra time when he does come by. For example, if it would take 15 minutes to complete his business, I’d schedule him for 25 or 30 so he could have some time to connect with people. That would be a lot easier to work around than just random unscheduled drop in visits and give him an outlet for that social energy. And if I had a staff member who was particularly gregarious, the kind who effortlessly remembers grandchildren and pet’s names, I might assign that person to be his primary contact.

        1. lemon*

          I definitely feel for the lonely/bored people out there (especially now, due to the pandemic), but scheduling extra time in for his appointments doesn’t seem like a reasonable expectation. It’s a business, not therapy. From working in customer service for years, I can tell you that there are lots of lonely people out there who are only calling you or stopping by your office/store because they need human interaction and not because they have a problem or need to buy something. If you give all of them extra time, you’d be spending your entire day doing nothing but talking to lonely people. I’m sorry that there are lonely people out there, but it’s not retail/CS workers job to be unpaid therapists.

          1. ThatGirl*

            I work for a well-known baking/decorating supply company and spent 2 years in customer service. We absolutely had people call just out of loneliness. I can still name a few of the regulars. And yeah, it’s a real skill to try to figure out if they have an actual question/complaint and then get them off the phone.

            1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

              I worked a for a large mobile phone company 15 years ago, and I heard that the call centre folk had a not-insignificant number of calls from folk who were just bored or lonely.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Agreed. Companionship is not a service you offer, OP. You can be nice without being his bestie.

          3. Jackalope*

            I disagree with you on this one. A) giving someone an extra 10-15 minutes per week is NOT providing therapy. B) the OP states below that he is a good customer in all other ways, including being otherwise easy to deal with and providing a large amount of valuable business, and so is considering letting him continue this behavior because he is such a valuable customer. Stopping that and in return offering him an extra TEN to FIFTEEN minutes per WEEK (or even 2x/wk if he brings in so much business that he needs 2 trips to get it all there) so that she can keep him as a satisfied customer, and then enforcing whatever time slotted, is a solid business decision, not the OP handing out free therapy.

            1. lemon*

              I think I was responding mostly to this section of what you wrote:

              For example, if it would take 15 minutes to complete his business, I’d schedule him for 25 or 30 so he could have some time to connect with people. That would be a lot easier to work around than just random unscheduled drop in visits and give him an outlet for that social energy.

              Scheduling him extra time “to connect with people” and giving him “an outlet for social energy,” sounds like managing his emotions for him. It’s how preschool teachers I know talk about their students, only in their case, it makes sense for them to manage their students’ emotions because they are children and they haven’t learned how to self-regulate. This guy is a grown person who should be capable of self-regulation and following the rules.

              I get what you’re saying about how sometimes, it can be a business decision to decide to do the extra work to manage someone’s emotions for them if they bring in a lot of money. I guess it’s for the LW to decide if his business is worth that work.

              I’m just coming from a place where, in my experience, if you give people an inch, they think they’re a ruler, and suddenly they’re using up all of your time to the point where the emotional labor of managing their emotions for them becomes very much not worth the money that client brings in (especially when gender and age dynamics are at play). Which is why I want to push back on the idea that this a reasonable solution.

              1. Total*

                “This guy is a grown person who should be capable of self-regulation and following the rules”

                I think we all know that he should be able to, but we’re thinking about potentially being kind if he can’t. It may not be a service that business offers, but people are part of the community as well. Take an extra ten minutes to chat.

                1. lemon*

                  But what if you don’t have an extra 10 minutes to chat? It’s not mean or unkind to communicate boundaries and expect that people try to respect that. Employees are part of the community as well, and the amounts of emotional labor we expect of people who may not be earning very much money is not always reasonable or fair or kind.

                  (I fully admit, I am generalizing to outside of this specific letter, mostly because I am woman who has been told my entire life that I’m being mean or unkind for expecting people to respect boundaries.)

                2. Total*

                  But what if you *do* have the extra ten minutes to chat and don’t want to because “boundaries”? Be kind.

                3. mgguy*

                  I’m one who tends to linger with small talk(small town/rural/southern raising) and being around businesses that think something’s wrong if a normally chatty person suddenly isn’t but also try to be perceptive to how welcome small talk is. I also greatly admire the “polite cut-off”(a skill I lack) and both recognize and respect if it’s being used on me.

                4. LutherstadtWittenberg*

                  I agree, lemon. If you don’t have the time, you shouldn’t feel that pressure anymore. It’s tiresome.

          4. pope suburban*

            This. These employees are not counselors, doctors, or surrogate best friends. Taking care of this person’s emotional needs is not part of their job description. It’s an unfortunate situation for him, sure, but it’s not their problem to fix.

        2. Chinook*

          I agree. This also has an added bonus of increasing how positively he will talk about you to others (because he would be the type to talk). It may feel like a “waste of time” in the moment, but it could pay off in the long run if done on your terms (i.e. by appointment).

          Story time – I worked at a rural car dealership where the top truck saleswoman for a bunch of locations (including big city ones) was a woman in a time where that was a rarity. The big boss came by one day and found her drinking coffee with someone in her office for half an hour. After the customer left without buying anything, the boss laid into her about how she should be out hustling more sales.

          She said that that was exactly what she was doing. That half hour chitchat was with a customer who had, over the last 15 years, bought 10 trucks for his family and business and was a regular service client. If she had said she had no time to chat, he would have gone to another dealership for coffee and probably taken his future business with him. Chatting with him was a productive way of making future sales because he knew he could pop in and buy something from her because he could trust her due to those chitchats.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        I got the same read, and to me it impacts the advice on the OP as support for enforcing strong boundaries without being too worried about losing his business.

        I’m not positive but it seemed to me that OP was looking at this as having only two possible outcomes: either sucking it up as a cost of doing business with him, or refusing his walk-in business and losing him as a client.

        Because I suspect he is bored/lonely, I personally think the most likely outcome if OP puts their foot down and insists they cannot see him without an appointment that he will eventually start following their rules because he still wants to come and chat with them.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I just commented this above and then saw this comment. Yes, I agree, he sounds lonely and that doesn’t mean that OP needs to accommodate his drop-in visits.

    3. mgguy*

      That was my exact thought too.

      I’m half the guy’s age, but I’m a collector and like having people to talk about my stuff with. I’ve befriended plenty of other folks who share the same interests, and I’ve known them to find businesses where they just go more or less to hang out because it’s human contact and there’s a listening ear there.

      I’m having flashbacks too to a close friend who passed away last year at 90. He was someone who my family had known-in various capacities-for years and my friendship with him was built out of a lot of shared interests and “horse trading.” At one time, though, my dad ran an Ebay resale business(which was a disaster, but that’s a different story) and before I was really close to this particular guy he would often come and spend an hour or two, sometimes bring small insignificant things to sell, sometimes bringing a whole lot of good stuff. My dad and the lady who worked for him always humored him, but a lot of that was also because the business was pretty slow anyway.

    4. emily spinach*

      Sure, he might be lonely, but that doesn’t excuse his disregard for OP’s time/rules. Years ago I worked in a bookstore where we would buy inventory from the public. We once had a customer pull up with a trunkful before we were opened. He yanked on the (locked) doors and even called because he saw us milling about doing opening duties (vacuuming, straightening shelves), so obviously that meant he could come in, right?

      He put up such a fuss that our manager went and let him in. The cash drawers weren’t even ready to go yet, we didn’t have the money to pay him for his graphic novels he brought in. In the end he had to wait the amount of time he normally would have had to if he arrived during our open hours. Rules exist for a reason!

      1. Kindness*

        Yes rules exist for a reason, but understanding why someone is the way they are can help with how to address the person. A little sympathy can go a long way. Like Jackalope said, if this is his MO, allowing his appointments to be an extra 10-15 minutes just so he can have some connection can go a long way in helping a client.

        1. Elsajeni*

          It may also just be practical — as it is, he’s taking up a ton of extra time hanging out and chatting, right? Scheduling those 15 minutes of Social Time into his appointment means whoever deals with him is under that much less pressure to wrap it up and hustle him out — so he has a warmer and more pleasant experience (and maybe gets the message that, hey, scheduling ahead actually means more time to chat), and although the staff are still slowed down a little by dealing with him, at least it’s a scheduled interruption that they can plan around.

      2. Lil*

        Lol, this reminds me of one time when I was serving at a place that had an outdoor patio. We opened at 11am, the bartender started at 10, and I (server) started at 10:30. It took until 11am to set everything up, hence the starting and opening times.

        Since the patio was accessible from the parking lot, we once had a family come sit on the patio at 10:40. When the mother came up to the bar, the bartender just told her “sorry, we don’t open until 11. You’re welcome to sit on the patio, but we won’t be able to help you until then”. All the mother responded with was “but we’re here now”

    5. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      Agreed. It’s not that he doesn’t understand business conventions (OP writes he’s older so maybe) Nope. He knows what he’s doing. He may believe that you folks are as Interested in his stuff as he is, because you always make time for him.
      He knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t care. And the company’s actions indicate they done care either.
      Why would he stop?

      1. lemon*

        Yes. If you reward bad behavior, people will just keep repeating the bad behavior, because it gets them what they want.

    6. MaureenSmith*

      Agreed with the loneliness. Many older folks aren’t comfortable with online connections. Some are, some aren’t. This gentleman may have discovered that your business is one of the only ones who will let him come in to chat, all others closer to him have enforced stricter no-visit policies.

      It sounds like your business is a commercial business. It is not one in the realm of social work. While you do have an obligation to keep clients happy-ish, you also have a more pressing obligation to pay the bills.

      Business you: Enforce boundaries equally for all customers. It doesn’t matter that they drove 6 hours, have a sick kid at home, etc. Ultimatly, your other customers (who you make more money on!) are seeing you give preferential treatment to one person, and can easily become disgruntled and leave.

      Empathic you: (optional) Prepare a handout for him with some info on accessing online communities with the same interests, connections to local senior support groups, etc. If you know anyone in social work in his area, put that contact on there.

      He’ll probably ‘stop by’ a few more times to test your resolve. Stand firm, it’s going to be very, very hard emotionally to do that.

      1. Jackalope*

        Regularly letting him trample the rules is not okay, I agree on that, but I don’t think other customers are going to get overly disgruntled if you have someone who needs extra help every now and then. To use your example, someone calling in and saying they have to move their regular appointment because their kid got a doctor’s appt. and they only had today, so you rearrange your other clients (or take them as a walk-in), if it’s an occasional thing occasioned by a real emergency, will be understood. Again, that’s not this guy, but making special exceptions can be the fair way to go.

  7. bananab*

    I would play dumb and act like I thought he was dropping in to MAKE an appointment. Granted this really only works when you do it from the start.

    1. pamela voorhees*

      It can work if they firmly reset the boundaries (“we’ve accommodated you in the past but from here on out, you MUST make an appointment”) and moving forward just assume he’s here to make an appointment.

  8. 30Something*

    If he comes by (on average) once a week, can you schedule a standing appointment on a specific day at a specific time for him? That way, you could just tell him, “X Day at Y Time is your appointment, Bob. Please stick to it, or we can’t accommodate you.”

    1. AnNina*

      Ooh, I really like this! Even one weekly 30 min appointment could fix this. I think this guy might be a bit lonely (as others have said). At this point it’s also possible that he sees himself as A Very Important Customer. As in “They always make time for Me” Which, at this point, is true.

      30something’s suggestion lets you set boundaries without offending him and even letting him keep his idea of being important.

      1. AnNina*

        (hit send too soon) Of you want, you can probably sell this idea of standing appointment as something you only offer for special customers. That might help him adjust to it, and help you feel less guilty about it.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      This sounds like a good idea…if he could actually stick to it. However, if the OP does end up giving him a standing appointment, it reinforces that he’s a Very Important Client, and that may not be the case. If he can’t then the OP is in the same situation of having to turn him away when he shows up at other times. It sounds like maybe the OP is in antiques or auctions — if they know of other antique societies or collectors with his same interests MAYBE referring him to those groups would be a kindness (only if those groups would consent to this).

      1. Paulina*

        Even if he still tries to drop in as well in addition to the appointment, they could make the appointment time significantly more desirable by giving him better attention for it. “Sorry, no time to talk now, but I’d be happy to hear about these items when you come by on Thursday as we have arranged.” And it may be a lot easier to give him more attention when it’s been planned, not disrupting everything else that they’re doing at random times.

    3. Sparkles McFadden*

      I would also put a time limit on the standing appointment so you have that out in the open too. If he knows in advance he only has a half an hour you’ll know you’ll be able to get on with your day.

      …and I’d like to remind the LW, who seems kind enough to want to accommodate this lonely guy, that respecting her staff is a higher priority so it’s OK to set clear limits.

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I think this may be the best bet you have OP. It honestly sounds like he is lonely, and talking with you and your staff are his only or primary social outlet. Be kind and friendly but firm that “this is your appointment Bob, we can’t accommodate you outside of this because that is unfair to our other clients.”

    5. WellRed*

      I wonder if, in addition to a standing appointment, it’s also possible to assign one employee to him, like a sales account. It may not be feasible, but thought I’d throw it out there.

      1. All the cats 4 me*

        oh, yes, great idea.

        Just make sure its not that person who will keep you talking for hours about nothing.

        Choose someone who is warm and outgoing, willing to be friendly AND enforce a time limit, otherwise the half-hour appointment will extend indefinitely. Every. Time.

        1. Amaranth*

          I can see it backfiring, in that now he has an ‘account manager’ and someone to call directly with any question or story. LW should make sure that any employee they try in that role is willing, and gets excellent backup. For instance, employee might need to be ‘the bad guy’ and cut off phone calls, or if they are all leaving for lunch and client shows up, make sure they aren’t sacrificed to stay while everyone else signs in relief and takes off.

          1. Sacred Ground*

            Exactly this. If you have one customer who takes up 25% of your employees’ time but brings in less than 5% of your business, that’s a problem. Or takes 10% of your time but brings in 1% of your overall business.

            Some customers are literally not worth the trouble to serve if they don’t bring in an amount of revenue proportionate to the effort of serving them.

    1. mgguy*

      I thought exactly that reading this too. That’s especially true in the days of COVID where many people’s families intentionally don’t go see/visit their older relatives.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      That’s sad but it’s not the LW’s responsibility. Really. If that’s the case then this is still Not Her Problem. A business cannot pause to satisfy a single customer’s emotional needs.

      1. Bill*

        I don’t get why people think everyone wants to be everyone’s friend. This is a business. This isn’t the local watering hole.

        1. Jackalope*

          Because people need connection to other human beings, and (especially right now) there are not necessarily a lot of options available for how to find it. I mean, it’s not like he can go to a local club right now or pick up a new hobby or something. I’m not saying it’s the business’s job to figure that out for him, and I strongly support the OP in wanting to set firmer boundaries. But if he’s not married, has no kids (or none close by), and, say, his 2 close friends for most of his life have already died, and it’s the middle of a pandemic, where is he going to find people to talk to? Again, this isn’t the OP’s job to solve, but it makes a lot of sense (especially if he’s retired recently and much of his prior social interaction was at work) that he is trying to figure out how to meet those needs now.

    3. LifeBeforeCorona*

      That’s probably true, I work several days a week with seniors, and right now they are lonely and frightened. It’s hard not to be able to spend time with them, all they want is someone to talk to for a while.

      1. Letter Writer*

        Letter Writer here: This is spot on. He’s recently retired, and it’s incredibly clear that human interaction is a big part of his motivation. I think that’s why when we did leave him in the parking lot that one time (see my comment below) he wasn’t bothered, upset, or angry at all. I know we all feel a pang of compassion too in recognizing someone who’s lonely and wants to talk to people about a shared interest. Other than the habit of showing up unannounced he’s not rude or unfriendly, which is what makes this uncomfortable.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          This is a case where you can take him basically at his word. He’s not rude. He’s not belligerent, he’s not demanding. So just say, “Sorry, Bob, you need an appointment, we’re leaving now!” or “Bob, you have to come back.” If he’s a reasonable person, he’ll say “OK, see ya later!”

          Remember that his feelings are not the only thing at stake here. You want your employees to know that you respect and value their time too, as well as your own, and that you respect the rules of the business that you’ve laid out. Bob is lonely? You can be sympathetic to him without solving his problem for him.

    4. Sue*

      Probably but my little local post office is the same way and I feel so bad for our lovely postmaster, she spends all day listening to the stories while those of us with business wait (and wait and wait) in line. She knows the life stories of quite a few but we have to budget our time to go in there.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        That’s unfair to the rest of the customers as well as her. (Also, it sounds like my post office, where staff will chatter about sports with a customer while a long line waits.)

  9. Kes*

    Agreed with everything Alison said here – if the rule is people need to make an appointment, you need to actually start enforcing that rule. Give him a warning and then start turning him away (unless he really is such a valuable customer it’s worth bending over backwards for him – but I don’t really get that vibe from the letter, just a ‘customer is always right’ mentality and worries about being rude). Especially don’t let him drag you back in when you’re closed and on your way to lunch – if he came at any other time you were closed, like at night, he’d have to turn around and go home. This should be the same. If it’s hard to do this for yourself, think about your staff and about the example you’re setting for other customers – they’re following the rules but you’re going out of your way to accommodate him when he doesn’t, and are making your staff obliged to bend over backwards for him as well. Think about how many people (including yourself) will be happier when you aren’t obliging him, and steel yourself to accept his reaction whether or not he is happy or complies gracefully with your changes

  10. Slow Gin Lizz*

    I nominate this letter for a December update. I really want to know if OP takes any of this advice and if/how it works out.

  11. ResearchChick*

    OP, I think you may need to revisit your definition of subtle. “Be sure to make an appointment next time so we can better assist you.” is still subtle! You assisted him great this time, so no need to improve so no need to make an appointment. As usual, Allison’s advice is spot on. You sound very customer-oriented, but remember to extend that to your other customers and staff as well.

    1. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

      I was going to say exactly this. He probably feels the help he’s getting when he drops by IS sufficient, so no need to make an appointment for BETTER service. You need to be very direct with him and say if he drops by again you are unable to help him and he will be shown out.

    2. Batgirl*

      Yes most of the OP’s scripts sound more like a hint, and honestly I would also translate it to: “You would prefer an appointment”, rather than “We insist on appointments”. Not to mention that the best clarifier, turning him away, isn’t happening. If he’d rather show up when the spirit moves him he’s going to think appointments are simply one of the options rather than essential to being seen.

  12. LadyByTheLake*

    Gosh, this sounds like a good friend of mine. He’s the right age, loves long drives, he’s super social, and he’s even in a business where he would need the kind of services it sounds like you offer. He’s also a person who has no problem asking for things that usually aren’t on offer, because he always assumes that people will say no if they don’t want to. I hope it IS my friend, because if you call him up, explain that your are serious and he needs to make an appointment, and then STICK to that, he genuinely won’t mind. Oh, he might grumble for a moment, but really, if you make a rule and actually enforce it, he’ll be fine.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      “a person who has no problem asking for things that usually aren’t on offer, because he always assumes people will say no if they don’t want to.”

      Ugh. A lot of people have a great deal of difficulty saying no, because we’ve been socialized that it’s rude or selfish. Or we’re afraid people will get angry and react badly if we say no. Someone like your friend might object that *he’d* never do that, but we don’t know that (unless we know him well already) because we can’t read his mind.

      1. LadyByTheLake*

        I have explained this to him and he’s genuinely baffled by why someone wouldn’t just say no. On the other hand, he’s gotten some amazing deals etc just because he asks.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          > On the other hand, he’s gotten some amazing deals etc just because he asks.

          Right. Because people don’t like to say “no”. This is actually a clear example of male privilege, where “privilege” in question is that that he was never slapped down for being assertive. If he can see that some people don’t feel able to meet him where he stands, he might be less baffled. (Also, he doesn’t need to understand WHY someone wouldn’t say no. He just needs to accept THAT some people are unable to say no.)

          1. Captain Kirk*

            How does that work with rejection therapy, where people are explicitly told to ask for things they have no expectation of receiving so they can desensitize themselves to rejection? (I think there was a story online of some guy who was trying “A Year of No” just to get himself used to “no.”)

            1. Sacred Ground*

              “Rejection Therapy” isn’t therapy. It’s a pop-psych game that borrows from CBT techniques. It’s not actually any kind of therapy.

          2. Gazebo Slayer*


            It’s actually… not great that some pushy dude gets special deals because he has the effrontery (and, yes, male privilege) to ask.

          3. All the cats 4 me*

            Oh, I don’t think this is a problem in business settings.

            I will often ask if there is any flexibility on price with the business owner on significant purchases, especially when I have market research that indicates there is some leeway to be had (I don’t do this with front line employees unless I have some factual basis that they have authority to make that level of decision, or they are authorized to take it to the person who does). So… not at McDonalds, but definitely at the auto dealership.

            I am not offended if the answer is no, if that is the worst thing that happens to me that day, I am ok with that!

            Similarly, in my small business, I am quite happy if a customer asks about a discount; that is often an opportunity for me to upsell them!

            Customer: can you give me a better price on these earrings?
            Me: Lets see; is there anything else you like? If you are thinking of buying earrings plus the necklace, I can offer you x% discount on both.

            Note that I *have* had customers who get really aggressive about it; in that case I respond with my best offer/discount (or none, if they are excessively unpleasant from the get go), and sadly say I simply cannot offer a lower price on that, will you be taking it or can I interest you in (less expensive option)? Any push beyond that, I will add that I am sorry they didn’t find something in their budget, thank them for looking and send them on their merry way.

            My business also allows me to offer a freebie instead of a discount- I may say, oh gosh, I wish I could offer a discount. How about if you pay the tag price and I add a pair of earrings from this display at no extra charge? This may cost me only a few cents for the ‘free’ pair and often makes the customer very happy. And I hope the customer tells ALL their friends!

        2. Sacred Ground*

          Start asking him for things. When he gets to the point of wanting to say no but agrees anyway, point out that the discomfort he’s feeling in that moment is a lot more intense for others.

  13. Laser99*

    Anyone who works in retail will recognize this type— bored out of their minds. You have to nip this in the bud, or he will be there all day, every day.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      When I worked in fitness we got a lot of these. Senior citizen who goes to the gym and spends hours BSing with everyone who will listen. Thankfully they all come between 8 am and 12 pm and entertain each other for the most part.

      Send him to the nearest community rec center/gym, bonus points if he’s over 50 and it has a seniors program.

      And just be glad your place of business is not a locker room, I have heard most of the lonely men who force people into drawn out conversations in the gym do so while naked in the locker room blowdrying their junk.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        If someone forced me into an extended conversation naked in a locker room I would interpret it as creepy sexual behavior and react accordingly.

    2. Pretzelgirl*

      Yes, yes, yes. Usually ( and I hate to say it), 60-75 year old men with nothing better to do. Sometimes it was because their partner wasn’t around for whatever reason. But almost always guys, in their 60s and recently retired.

      1. Grapey*

        I like to call the locals that sit at our local coffee shop ROMEOs – Retired Old Men Eating Out. They’re still there in covid times too, just in folding chairs next to their cars in the parking lot.

    3. Squidhead*

      Yep, I worked in a small town hardware store long ago that opened at 0700. By 0730, several days a week, this same older man came in. He usually didn’t even buy anything…he was just bored. Sometimes he’d buy something tiny and want me to break the $100 bill he insisted on carrying around. (We only had $200 in change that early in the morning, so I’d insist that he use the $1 bill I could see in his hand. He said it was there to cover the $100. I mean, why not just get 20’s like everyone else?!) Other than that annoyance, he was harmless and we were usually pretty quiet at that hour (and we did *not* operate on an appointment-only basis).

      1. Pretzelgirl*

        Yes! Why did old men do this! There were times where I would say, sorry I don’t have the change to sell you a $2 item and give you back $98.

  14. Paulina*

    Yes! Some people only learn what the rules really are by having them enforced. This man has learned he doesn’t need an appointment, because he always gets an exception; maybe he tells himself it’s because he does repeat business with you that he deserves one, or maybe he just doesn’t care, or the mention of appointments doesn’t sink in long-term because it’s not part of his visit.

    As an academic who has been a program administrator, I have dealt with many people who don’t get rules until those rules are enforced on them. Some have been colleagues, sadly. And while a few will persist in pushing each time, I’ve had a lot of success with enforcement. One now former colleague, a man who was then probably in his mid-50s, was very good at getting exceptions by proceeding as though he could get them, and then getting the exception at the last minute because he’d painted things into a corner. “Just this time” to him meant “I can do that.” Until I enforced the rule anyway, since I learned he wasn’t listening to what was said. Consequences were far more memorable than “next time you need to.” Next time? He checked with me first. And every time thereafter.

    BTW I also suggest letting the “he lives an hour away” pressure dwell on you less. It’s possible that he’s making a special trip to see you each time, but given that he’s saying “I just thought I’d drop by” there’s some suggestion that he’s doing this as part of trips he’s making for other reasons. You wouldn’t want him to have to make a special trip, but you can try to accommodate him with suitable appointment times rather than dropping everything when he happens to show up. Currently he’s not doing any planning because he doesn’t have to, and if he’s in the area frequently (which it sounds like he is) then there should be workable options.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      OP, if you knew for a fact that he did the very same thing at 4 other places on the way to see you, how would your response to him change?

  15. Caroline Bowman*

    That old saying about ”as you do, so you teach” is absolutely true. Unfortunately your natural politeness and willingness to be kind (which is great, and as an occasional thing NBD re your business) has been taken by a person who is probably somewhat used to doing what he wants, when he wants and / or may be lonely or have plenty of time on their hands as permission. Boundaries are essential.

    I wouldn’t wait till he does it again. I would call him and say that unfortunately you will not be able to accommodate, ever, any drop-in visits. You’re sorry, but in these times, you need to be careful and also make sure everyone is treated fairly, so would he like to make a standing appointment or simply call to make an appointment when he wants to come over? Then stick to it like glue.

  16. Ingalls*

    Please throw in the word Covid as someone else suggested. We are now requiring Clients and Vendors alike to make appointments when they want to stop by.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      Disagree. It doesn’t sound like this is a COVID measure. They always required appointments, including before COVID, and will continue to do so after COVID, so bringing that into it muddies things.

  17. Letter Writer*

    Hi, letter-writer here: Thanks for the feedback. You’re right that we should have been holding more firm with our actions. Since we’ve never had anyone act this way before, it’s clear that we’re not practiced in dealing with this kind of behavior. As you’ve suggested I and another staff member have said “I know you live an hour away. I don’t want you to make that drive for nothing, so I want to make sure you set up an appointment next time or else we can’t see you.” We have turned him down and left him in the parking lot once when he arrived as we were closing, but that didn’t seem to get the point across either as he showed up cheery and eager the next week. He is a valuable client; the bulk of his items are actually very profitable which is why we’ve put up with this behavior thus far. I think that’s probably the answer as you said, “Some clients are valuable enough that businesses make calculated decisions to accommodate their demands, no matter how rude.”

    1. Boof*

      The more people you deal with, the more likely you’re going to encounter unreasonable people! Be ready to know what your boundaries are and enforce them when needed. Make sure to check in with your staff and that they shouldn’t feel pressured to do things they feel resentful of for him (or offer a bonus for staying over to deal with him if it’s worth it)

    2. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

      I’d reiterate to him ONLY the second part: “Set up an appointment next time or we can’t see you”. Clearly he doesn’t care about the drive, or he wouldn’t be making it on a whim.

    3. TCO*

      I wouldn’t be so sure that you need to accommodate his drop-ins just because he’s a valued client. It sounds like turning him down once didn’t dissuade him at all from doing business with you. You might be able to have a boundary and still keep him as a client.

    4. boop the first*

      It’s your choice! But also consider the fact that the less readily available you are, the more desirable you become. His cheerfulness after the closing incident is a sign that you can actually have it all.

    5. Paulina*

      Can you try turning him down and immediately setting up an appointment for him? So far it sounds like he’s just absorbed “try again” not “make appointment.” Or even if you end up dealing with his latest drop-in, making a standing appointment for him before he leaves. It sounds like he does enough business with you to use a standing appointment, and you could even paint it as something he deserves (setting aside regular time for him) rather than anything that comes across as punitive.

      For people I meet with frequently, the last item is always “when will we meet next.”

      1. Paulina*

        And if you do get him to make and keep an appointment, you can make it appealing for him to keep doing it, setting aside enough time to listen to him (if your schedule and workload can accommodate this) instead of a quick drop-in.

      2. GothicBee*

        Since he’s valuable enough to accommodate some of the behavior, I like the idea of trying to have him set up his next appointment while he’s there. I mean it’s possible he just doesn’t think to set up an appointment until he’s ready to make the drive.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          Or the standing appointment suggested. If he knows he can come in and do his thing every Thursday between 3 and 3:30 or whatever, that might cover everyone’s needs, it sounds like.

    6. Liane*

      Then I like the idea of the PITA Tax someone upthread mentioned. Have his fees reflect the fact that he takes up more of your and your staff’s time than other clients. And reflect that you have made a choice of This One Client over X clients that you lose because they have to wait long after their appointment time, or get put on hold/emails not answered timely, due to everyone dropping everything for This One Client.

      1. Jackalope*

        Please also keep in mind that this affects your staff morale and continuity as well. If they are forced to drop their lunches (or postpone them for an hour when they’re already hungry), rush other work, etc., because you aren’t enforcing boundaries with this guy, this will affect them also and make them less likely to stay around. Letting someone get away with ignoring your rules all the time has more consequences than it can seem like up front.

    7. Weekend Please*

      I think you need to phrase it a different way. You keep phrasing as being in his best interest to make an appointment (so that he doesn’t make the drive unnecessarily, so you can assist him better, so he doesn’t have to wait). His response is “Oh, I don’t mind!” and he thinks the problem is solved. Tell him that you need him to make an appointment for YOUR benefit. Tell him that it is difficult on you and your staff to accommodate him last minute and you really need him to make an appointment so that you can block out the time and prepare for his visit. I don’t think he understands right now that he is inconveniencing you.

      1. Conspiracy-Industrial Complex*

        He KNOWS that he is inconveniencing and disrupting them. He CHOOSES to inconvenience and disrupt them. The key is to make him CHOOSE not to.

      2. Nanani*

        This. It is also for your -staff’s- benefit. He may not care about inconveniencing them but you should.

    8. WFH with Cat*

      Even a valuable client needs to follow *some* rules, especially in the time of COVID, just to avoid overtaxing you staff’s limited time and other resources. You might give some thought to assigning a specific person to manage this client’s account and contact him on a regular basis to arrange his appointments in advance. That way, he gets more attention, which he seems to want, but it’s controlled by your staff.

    9. Ann O'Nemity*

      Can you pressure him to set his next appointment when he’s leaving? Every time he leaves? That might work better than hoping he calls on his own to set an appt. (Seems to work well at my dentist’s office, lol.)

    10. hbc*

      I have one customer who’s pretty much like this and, similarly, he’s worth bending the rules for. But you have to figure out how to bend the rules to your mutual benefit. We spent months trying to make their behavior fit our normal procedures until we figured out that we were spending more time fighting them than it would take to make a few accommodations.

      -Can someone call him on Friday and proactively schedule an appointment for next week? He feels the love and you get predictability.
      -Can you tell him to call on his way out the door to make sure that someone will be available in an hour? The idea of A Scheduled Appointment is really hard for some people, but maybe you can use the buffer of his drive to your advantage.
      -Can you tell him that he’s such a great customer that you’re reserving a slot for him M/W/F at x:00? You’re just sooo busy but you’ll be able to let him come in at those times.
      -Can you institute a drop-in charge? If it makes it feel more palatable, you can waive it if he has $X worth of stuff and only accept it during hours that work for you. No one else needs to know about this policy.

      Just keep in mind that he has different motivations than you–this dude doesn’t think 8 hours of driving in a week that could have been done in 2 is a big deal. So some things that might seem awful (ex: telling him every single time he drops by that you’re fully booked that day but you can see him at 10:30 tomorrow) might be perfectly fine in his book.

      1. hbc*

        I meant to add, the fact that he showed up cheery after the parking lot rejection is actually a good thing. You can tell him “no” today and he’s not taking his business elsewhere tomorrow! Maybe all you have to do is get comfortable with telling him “no” every time he shows up at an inconvenient time. Which would be any time you don’t have 30 minutes to spend on him.

      2. Paulina*

        It may also be worth considering that some people are uncomfortable making phone calls, and have a much easier time initiating an interaction in-person.

        1. Courageous cat*

          Ok sure but at some point we gotta stop bending over backwards to find reasons why this guy can’t provide a very common courtesy of making an appointment as per the rules. Not everyone is comfortable making phone calls; that doesn’t mean they can just show up to the doctor’s office whenever they want.

        2. hbc*

          …Maybe. That’s why I gave other options like the reserved slots. Or he can email or text or send a letter two days before. The point is to get creative with what works on both ends for a truly worthwhile customer. But it can’t just be “Oh, I don’t like the phone, so I get to show up whenever I feel like it and get service with no notice.”

    11. a clockwork lemon*

      Even this language to me still feels really soft? If you’re appointment only to clients, you can just say that to him directly. “Hey, Joe, we’ve adjusted our policies a bit [due to COVID or whatever, if you really feel like you MUST have an excuse] and we’re appointment only now. We won’t be able to see you unless you make an appointment going forward, so make sure you call Benvolio at the office so we can block out time for you, otherwise we’re going to be all booked up.”

      He’s not picking up what you’re putting down, and what you’ve said you’re doing here and the language from your letter aren’t things that an oblivious person (or, honestly, someone from an Ask culture who is accustomed to hearing someone say “nope, sorry we’re busy!”) would necessarily register as indicative of an appointment-only model.

    12. Batgirl*

      You’ve never told him that it’s a rule! As in, a hard rule that applies to every client, no matter where they live or the value of their stuff, and that it will be enforced every.single.time he tries. If your favourite restaurant had signage about reservations, but could still accommodate you in a pinch; wouldn’t you try your hand sometimes? You’d gracefully accept the ‘no’ if they couldn’t seat you, but trying for a rule exception is pretty common human behaviour.
      Since he isn’t rude, I bet he’d be just as graceful about it if you refused him service before closing time. Like, the middle of the afternoon when you’re all sat around visibly available. Say no anyway. And for the love of good living, go to lunch when it’s lunch!
      He knows the drive is a risk and is willing to roll that dice and lose. It’s a perfectly polite response to say no to his tries: “We’re too busy right now but when is your appointment?”.
      If he says “Is no one free right now?” or “I thought I’d drop by” just add:
      “No one is free for drop ins, which is why we have a strict appointment policy. I’ll put you down for Tuesday though.”
      You’re going to have to do this quite a few times before he gets it, because you’ve already taught him that it’s not a hard and fast rule and drop ins are sometimes a possibility.

  18. Sandhra*

    Charge him for not making an appointment, and not just $20 either. Drop-ins cost you money, so it should also cost him money.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*


      And it’s not even a “no-appointment” fee. It’s an expedited-service fee.

    2. Alex*

      That always seems like a practical idea, but it turns out that isn’t much of a deterrent! They did that whole experiment with daycare pickups —charging people more who were late to try and dissuade lateness, but it actually only led to more lateness, because people saw themselves as “paying for a service”. This guy would probably be similar. Don’t make drop-ins an option on the menu, period.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        I’ve heard the same about parking tickets…they don’t deter people from parking where they shouldn’t or for longer than they should — some people just see that as the cost to park there.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Some states used to (and maybe still do, but I haven’t seen them in a long time) have signs on the highways telling you how much a speeding ticket would be, depending on how fast you were going. I’m sure it was supposed to be a deterrent, but as a comedian said, it just helps me budget my trip.

  19. Happy to be here*

    I feel this letter! We stopped taking walk-in customers at our location last year, because a 10 minute phone transaction turns into 45 minutes in person. (We’re not staffed or set up for in-person orders.) We finally had to literally stop answering the door , because after 2 or 3 “exceptions”, the same customer kept coming to us, thinking we’d still be able to stop what we were doing and help them with their order. We couldn’t sustain it.

    Be clear and be consistent. Future you will be so glad you did!!

  20. Sloan Kittering*

    OP, as you think about how to handle this client, make sure you are reflecting on the 80/20 rule for businesses. I’ve heard it described as, 80% of outputs come from 20% of inputs. Probably a small percentage of your clients are truly bringing most of the value – meanwhile, 20% of your clients are probably wasting 80% of your time. What does that venn diagram look like for you? Where is this guy in it?

  21. Conspiracy-Industrial Complex*

    [“However, since he’s been allowed to ignore your rules with impunity up until now, it would be a kindness to give him one clear, final warning first.”]

    I must disagree. The rule itself is a warning. The reminders of the rule were warnings. He has had MORE than enough warnings.

    In general, don’t “threaten” or “promise” to enforce the rules. Just enforce the rules.

  22. The Rural Juror*

    My boss has been considering the idea of putting up a Ring camera or some other type of video doorbell. We tend to get a few drop-ins a week from salespeople (even during COVID). Here lately I’ve been the only one at the office, so that makes me the one who has to deal with them! We usually don’t lock the door because we still get UPS and FedEx deliveries, but if I had that setup then I could start locking the door and have the delivery folks use the doorbell. I’ve told him I fully support the idea and that we should set up it – QUICKLY!

    I know it’s a slightly different situation than the OP’s, but that might be one way to meter who can and can’t come in (especially during a pandemic!). If you have a camera doorbell with 2-way audio, then it may be easier to tell him you can’ t see him. If he can’t come in a physically in and see anyone working, then you don’t have to try to convice him you’re too busy to see him (and your employees don’t have to feel bad).

    1. Environmental Compliance*


      This is a good idea as well, just from a security standpoint, and especially with the likely lack of staff coverage during COVID.

      (I do likely have a bias since I have dealt with far too many weirdos caught in the mini lobby prior to a security door who otherwise would have just wandered willy nilly throughout the building… including the guy who ran in with bloody hands…)

      1. irene adler*

        yeah- Security concerns was my thought as well. Hence, no one gets in without having an appointment as no one will be available otherwise to let them in.

        Bloody hands?

        We had a stalker walk in, carrying a firearm, walk around the halls and then leave. He couldn’t find his intended target-the ex-girlfriend. Thank goodness!! (He told her about it later on that day). Management installed locks on all doors (and doorbell for the only official entrance to our building) the next day.

        The guy the OP is dealing with is probably harmless. But can’t say that about the next guy.

  23. WFH with Cat*

    Even the most valuable client needs to follow *some* rules to avoid overtaxing your staff. You might give some thought to assigning a specific person to handle his account and contact him regularly so his appointments can be scheduled in advance. The client will get the extra attention he appears to want, but the time spent doing that will be more under your control.

    (hope this doesn’t post twice … it disappeared into the ether the first time)

  24. I'm just here for the cats*

    I wonder if he has ever come when another client has been there. If not it’s bound to happen. And if the OP is allowing him to get in without an appointment the other client might feel slighted because they did follow the rules.

    I think that the OP needs to have a conversation ahead of the client’s next drop in and say that it is not possible for him to come without an appointment. If he does he will be turned away.

  25. CommanderBanana*

    I worked in a small boutique that recently ‘fired’ a customer because of this. We generally only have one person on staff, and he would come in and monologue at whoever was working for at least 45 minutes. There was literally nowhere to escape because the store is tiny, which meant for distancing that only one person could be in at a time, which meant other customers had to wait until Sir McTalksaLot left to come in. He would also call us and get into debates about the local taxes. Finally the owner told him that he needs to shop somewhere else.

  26. animaniactoo*

    Another tactic for the superadvanced: Start cahooting with another high value customer.

    The next time he just “drops by”, somebody call that customer and have them “just drop by” and eat up all his “time”.

    Or start yelling about his appointment and his time being valuable and how dare you not respect his appointment time. What’s the point of making an appointment if somebody can just drop by and be seen whenever they want? Why is he being penalized for playing by the rules instead of just dropping by?

    [stuffs EvilMe™ back in her box… pardon me. Pay no attention to that wench.)

  27. Nanani*

    Excellent advice.

    LW, a rule that’s repeatedly stated but not enforce is just a very boring meme.
    Do not let him have your (or your staff’s) time without an appointment anymore.

    From his perspective, it looks like “you need an appointment” is just like, something you’re supposed to say, but obviously not a real rule or else you wouldn’t be letting him do these walk-ins.

    Empower your staff to turn him away, perhaps by calling you over to be the enforcer?
    Staff less senior than you, who have seen you make an exception to the appointment rule for this client, almost certainly don’t feel empowered to turn him away. Demonstrate that the rule is more important and start enforcing it yourself. It will definitely help your staff do the same.

  28. AKchic*

    He does this on purpose. He knows he’s supposed to schedule an appointment. You’ve told him so every single time he “pops in”. Unfortunately, he’s trained *you* to ignore your own policies for him. He’s such a naughty boy, he forgets the rules, isn’t he such a stinker. And look! He brought more stuff that you might want! Isn’t he such a clever boy! How about you be a good girl and forget all about this silly nonsense about “appointments” and “calling ahead” and “scheduling” and be a doll and just take care of it now while he’s here so he hasn’t wasted a trip? Aw, there’s a love, now.

    Yeah… see how annoying that is?
    As the first commenter said – call him up. Be firm. It’s the holiday season and with everyone wanting to take extra precautions for family gatherings around the pandemic, plus the customer base, you are ensuring the rules are being followed. You can schedule an appointment now if he’d like, but he cannot just show up without an appointment, and if he does, he won’t be seen. Then, stick to it, no matter how many shiny, potentially valuable trinkets he’s brought to your parking lot. And he will. He will test your resolve. He will even whine about making such an awfully long trip, and how he needs to use the restroom, oh, and gee, now that he’s in the building, you might as well see what he’s got… don’t even let him into the building. If you can, lock your doors and only unlock them to let buyers/sellers in and out (or get a door that “locks” to outside people). He will fuss. He will show up a few times. Hold firm, offer to schedule an appointment, and stick to your appointment time (he doesn’t get to see you early, and his appointment cannot run longer than any other appointment).
    He may choose to start going elsewhere. That’s okay. What’s not okay is his insistence that he is above your company policies.

  29. jojo*

    Sounds like dropoffs at the salvation army here. Our local office has set aside 8am to noon on tuesday and friday for this. They have a crew to accept dropoffs on those days and time only. Dropoffs are accepted at no other time. Lonely people doing dropoffs meet other people doing dropoffs at this time and can bug each other instead of the staff. Win win. Staff can work, donaters bug each other instead of staff.

  30. CoveredInBees*

    In addition to the recommendations to call him about this now, rather than the next time he shows up, is it feasible to set up a standing appointment for him? He will know when he can show up and how long he can stay. He can make other appointments , if need be, but he’ll know he has that one.

  31. GreenDoor*

    When I was in my early 30s (female) I used to be the aide to a city councilman. It was my job to answer the phone and be a friendly voice on the end. I had at least three older men that would call me regularly – multiple times a day – to talk about nothing – just wanted to shoot the breeze. Over time I learned one had been widowed suddenly, another was in a wheelchair and homebound, and the other was elderly, severely obese and had no family. They weren’t calling for city services or political reasons. They were lonely. And I was a friendly voice on the line. I say this to suggest that maybe if this guy is older and willing to drive an hour for next to no reason it may be because your indulgence is a lifeline. If you get that vibe from him and don’t want to indulge him that’s perfectly fine. But you may need to get a lot more pointed and businesslike and cut out all friendly banter for him to learn that your employees will not be his source of companionship – and that includes strictly enforcing your appointment rule.

  32. Tidewater 4-1009*

    It sounds like he’s lonely and probably bored, and enjoys the company of you and your staff. Maybe he has a crush on one of you. It sounds like he’s making excuses to come and see you.
    If this is the case, he could be disproportionately upset if you suddenly start enforcing your rule about appointments.
    His feelings aren’t yours to manage of course, but maybe easier for everyone if you ease him into it with a phone convo as suggested above, and if there’s an opportunity maybe steer him to a social club or nice neighborhood bar?

  33. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    “He might look sad or disappointed or frustrated or even angry the first time you hold firm. That’s okay! *You don’t need to manage his emotions. You just need to be reasonable and fair, and the rest is up to him*.”

    This is such a great message, thank you.

  34. Just Another Zebra*

    In my position, I have regular meetings with outside vendors. There is a hard and fast rule that you must make an appointment to meet with us. One of them, we’ll call him Joe, perpetually ignored that rule. Even after reminding him of it, even after he was turned away at the door a handful of times, Joe kept just popping in. The last straw was when he decided to randomly show up while I was in another vendor meeting. It was awkward for everyone, but I flat out said to him that my other vendor had made an appointment for my time, and so I really couldn’t see him then, and to PLEASE make an appointment going forward as we had already discussed. He huffed about it and left, but he hasn’t done it since.

  35. anonforthis*

    This is tough, since you noted in your comment that he is a valuable client that provides significant revenue to the business. Is there someone he prefers working with? Can you tell him that you can guarantee that x person will work with him each time if he schedules an appointment? Setting up a standing appointment for him? Calling him Monday morning each week to ask if he is planning to come in and if so when so you can be ready to talk with him?

  36. RB*

    He may not actually have the ability to make an appointment — not everyone has the internet at home or on their phones — and he may be embarrassed to say that he doesn’t have it. Is there an option where he can call ahead to make an appointment or are the appointments only available through your website/e-mail address? It might be worth asking him if this is an issue for him.

    1. soon 2be former fed*

      This is ridiculous. Boundary-stomping client is presumably an adult and would state themselves the reason why they don’t make appointments, although this is grasping at straws.

      1. RB*

        Not really, my neighbor (early 70s) doesn’t have the internet, never has, and neither do my parents. My neighbor is a little embarrassed about that so when she’s required to do something that uses the internet, she doesn’t tell the company she doesn’t have it, she just asks me if I can do it for her. Both her and my parents are the type of people who might be involved in this sort of consignment-sale enterprise that was discussed in the letter.

  37. Finland*

    If there were more restrictions on this man’s behavior, in the form of demanding (albeit, politely) that he book an appointment, then perhaps he would spend more energy making sure that his trips are worthwhile.

    It seems like this man is the only customer who is behaving this way toward your business, so you will have to react to him differently than you react to your other customers. You will just have to get comfortable with refusing him (again, politely) for not making an appointment.

    Once he learns that the risk of him being turned away is greater, he will either put the effort into respecting your time, or he will go elsewhere. I take it that he doesn’t have such an option elsewhere if he has to drive an hour one way to get to your facility.

    This could work to your advantage: if he becomes unbearable, you can refuse his business and refer him to some other location (even better if it’s a much longer drive than one hour). Some people will never learn unless they are faced with the consequences of their actions.

  38. soon 2be former fed*

    This is a basic behavior modification situation. Client sees no need to follow the rules because they get what they want every time. Client has to stop getting what they want for their behavior to change. I don’t think age of gender has anything to do with it, the person is simply used to doing what they want when they want, and as the client feels the business cannot set boundaries. Be willing to lose the client so that you don’t lose control of the business, and explain clearly that appointments are non-negotiable to prospective clients. Don’t be concerned about how far someone drives or anything else when they are stomping on a boundary. It is absolutely unfair to other clients to allow this person to continue to have special privileges.

  39. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    I got caught with the place that does bike repairs. I just showed up as usual, at a time when there’s not likely to be a queue, but was told that I should have made an appointment. They had introduced the new rule to limit the number of people in the shop because of covid. The guy saw how stricken I looked and said he’d try to fit me in. I left my bike with him, and he took my number to let me know when he’d managed to get it done. He called a couple of hours later, so that was great. I gave him some chocolate as a thank you because tips of money are not allowed.
    And I’ll be sure to make an appointment next time. I’m in France where staff are not nearly as accommodating in the US (because they won’t be fired just for not smiling or whatever), and I’m pretty sure if I turned up a second time without an appointment and the guy recognised me, he’d just pull out the schedule to make an appointment.

  40. MCMonkeyBean*

    I want to add one more thing in addition to comments I’ve left as replies:

    I think that enforcing your appointment policy would really be fore *everyone’s* benefit. First and most obviously, it would of course benefit the staff to not feel like they have to drop everything (including lunch breaks!) to accommodate him. It also is better for other clients who are already following the rules not to let him jump the line like he has been. But also I think it is in his best interest as well! It sounds like he enjoys coming to do business with you which is presumably why he comes so often from so far away. But right now–you guys are feeling (very validly) annoyed with him. Even if you are all very professional, that might show up in the way that you deal with him and it means you may often feel like you have to try to rush through and get him out to door as quick as possible to get back to what you actually have scheduled. So if you make him stick to appointments then you guys may get to enjoy chatting with him as much as he enjoys chatting with you, and you won’t feel like you have to try to get him in and out as quick as possible when you’re working in a time actually booked on the calendar.

    The first part, the benefit to the employees, is I think alone enough reason to be firm. But I think it could be helpful to keep the rest in mind as well if you do decide to move forward with enforcing boundaries.

  41. Proactive Piglet*

    How about you call this customer and explain that you have changed your policy to be strictly appointments only and we’ll have to turn down any walk-ins. While you are on it, you can book his next visit. Every time he comes for his appointment, you can proactively book his next visit.

    Or you can also schedule running biweekly visits from this person or weekly visits, during non-peak hours.

  42. kkezir*

    My guess is he is a lonely old man and this is what he does to fill his day. I agree, set some limits but this might be the cost of doing business with this guy.

    1. Dennis Feinstein*

      That was my feeling too. He’s lonely. I actually feel a bit sorry for him. It sounds like the OP and staff are probably decent people and it’s hard to say to someone essentially, “Go away now please” or “We’re all off to lunch and you’re not invited.” I definitely think the pre-emptive call asking him not to come without an appointment is the way to go. It’s much harder to say, “No” when the person’s standing right in front of you.

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