Top 10 Ways to Lose Customers

Ask anyone in business about their worst customer ever, and they’ll be hard-pressed to tell you about just one. But ask them about their best customer ever, and they’ll probably have to take time to think about it.

Which explains why, as business people, we sometimes forget the fundamental truth that our customers are our biggest supporters, they want to think well of us (and our products and services). They want us to succeed.

Many of them start dealing with us in the first place hoping to become repeat customers. It makes people’s lives so much easier if they can continue to deal with one butcher or one carpet cleaner.

And all they want from us is for us to meet their expectations, which means not doing any of the things in the following slides.

Learn how to get and keep customers by reviewing the top ways to lose them, in reverse order from ways that will merely aggravate some of your customers through means that will alienate all of them forever.

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Engaging Poorly Trained Staff

Customers Thinking
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Imagine that you walk into a store selling blinds, wanting to purchase some blinds for your home. But although several different sales people seem eager to assist you, none of them seem to know anything about blinds! Imagine how frustrating that would be – and how long it would take you to walk out and take your business elsewhere.

Customers, you see, expect that salespeople at a business will be knowledgeable about that business’s products and services.

You can get around this expectation, however, by eliminating this type of hand-holding customer service from your business. Several very successful big-box chains have done this, expecting customers to see this as a fair trade for lower prices. And online businesses tend to operate as self-serve businesses.

However, the bottom line is that if your business operations include a customer expectation that they will be able to interact with knowledgeable staff, you’d better have some – especially if your sales depend on it.

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Restricting Your Hours of Operation

Neon Open Sign
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A coffee shop that only stays open until 3 p.m. A doctor that only works two days a week. A bakery that closes for a month at a time so its owners can go on vacation.

Three examples. Three businesses that have lost customers (and money!) because of restricted hours that seem unreasonable to prospective customers.

Now, most bricks-and-mortar businesses restrict their hours to some degree. As customers, we don’t expect to be able to browse through retail stores or go and get our hair cut in the middle of the night.

But the difference is that we see these as reasonable restrictions; they make sense to us.

You need to provide customers with what they will consider being reasonable access to your products and services. If you don’t, they’ll find what you’re selling elsewhere.

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Looking Unprofessional

Professional Disaster
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For small business people, the adage “Dress for Success” should actually be “Dress to Impress (the customer)” because that’s what it all about – looking like someone that a customer thinks will do the job well, whether that job is selling people tools to do work on their own homes or selling people’s homes.

It’s no coincidence, for instance, that Home Depot’s sales associates all wear aprons; the uniform, suggestive of a carpenter’s tool belt, makes them look like handy types who know what they’re doing.

And if you don’t look like you would be good at the job, customers move on.

  • Point 1: You don’t need to wear a power suit; you need to look knowledgeable about whatever your expertise is.
  • Point 2: To look professional, you also need to be appropriately equipped. I once had a person I was about to hire to prune some trees ask me if I had a ladder he could use. Uh, no. And you can go away now. Business image is not just about personal appearance.
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Making It Difficult to Do Business With You

Bad Customer Service Car Dealership
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Trying to conduct a simple transaction with some small businesses is like fighting your way through a blackberry thicket; you end up feeling all scratched up and wondering why you made an effort.

This might include:

  • A business where you had to pick up a phone to get buzzed into the office – except the phone was around the corner of the building with no signage pointing to it.
  • A business with no answering service or voice mail, so that when you called the number the phone just rang and rang. 
  • A home business where clients had to walk all through the main living quarters (obviously occupied by a family with a baby) to get to the tiny office in the basement.
  • A retail business that only accepted cash. (Just silly; the more payment methods you offer customers, the more convenient it is for them and the more sales you’ll make.)

Unfortunately, this is a list that could go on – and we're sure you'll have no trouble adding examples to it yourself!

Businesses that make it hard for customers to get into the premises, pay for merchandise, or even make it just about impossible to even contact them at all do themselves no favors – these are all experiences customers won’t want to repeat.

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Making It Hard for Customers to Return Goods to You

Customer Service Guerilla
John Lund / Getty Images 

Making it hard for customers to return things marks the halfway point of this survey of ways to lose customers because while it’s something that aggravates customers, it’s not something they’ll all experience.

You may have (and hopefully do have) lots of customers who will never feel the need to return anything. For them, it probably doesn’t matter that to return an item to your business; a customer needs to have not only an adequately dated receipt but also must be trying to return the item between 2 and 3 pm on a Friday in a week with a full moon.

Which is great. Because if they ever do decide to return something and find out that it’s super difficult or even impossible, you’ve lost them.

Avoid stress on both your parts and handle returns the right way, so that your customers go away happy and will be willing to return to your business and buy again.

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Doing Shoddy Work or Selling Shoddy Products

Car Salesman
Bruce Laurance / Getty Images 

This can be called the “plenty of fish in the sea” business model. Instead of trying to institute the kind of customer service that increases the odds of customers coming back, businesses that follow this model expend their energies reeling customers in and working them to make that one-time sale.

The most popular way for these businesses to draw customers in is through lowered prices, either lower than competitors’ or as advertised sales.

They don’t care if the customer comes back or not; their theory is that there are lots of other potential customers out there that they can lure in and do the same thing too.

And don’t think that this business model is limited to retailers; it’s especially popular among providers of home renovation services.

I have three words for you, shoddy businesses: word-of-mouth.

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Being Unresponsive

Skeleton of Man Who Died While Waiting 'on Hold'. Telephone.
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It’s interesting how forgiving some customers will be. Even doing a shoddy job for them once is not enough for them to never give you a chance to sell to them again in some cases.

With way #4, though, we’re entering the realm of the unforgivable, otherwise known as “things you just don’t want to do if you want to keep customers and get new ones.”

Being unresponsive to customers can occur at any stage of the sales cycle. An interior designer who overrides a customer’s color choice or a dog groomer who can’t be bothered to fully answer a prospective client’s questions about her service are both guilty of ignoring a customer’s wishes.

Unfortunately, in a world of phone texting and social media, customers’ expectations are ballooning. If you’re feeling stretched too thin to be properly responsive to your customers, it’s time to hire some help.

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Making the Customer Feel Unimportant

Bad Customer Service
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Making a customer feel unimportant is even more unforgivable in a customer’s view, which is why it comes in a number three.

Everyone needs to feel that what they do and say matters. Feeding this need is the essence of excellent customer service.

But it’s so easy to fail. When we do things such as not returning a client’s call in a timely fashion, not giving them our full attention when we speak (or worse, interrupting them!) or not providing them with some acknowledgement when they become “regulars”, we tell them that they’re not important to us, whether it’s true or not.

Never believe that people will judge you by your words when your actions say something different.

To succeed at customer service, you need to make every customer feel special.

A trick to help you accomplish this: Who’s the most important person in your life? Hold this important person in your mind and treat every customer the way you would treat him or her.

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Lying to Them

Pinocchio Businessman
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This isn’t one of the fastest ways to get rid of customers, but it’s one of the best.

You’ll get away with it for a while because people want to believe the best of one another. If you promise a customer, for instance, that you will have that new floor laid in five days, it will take them at least five days to discover that you made them a promise you couldn’t keep.

And then most people will tell themselves that things happen and you didn’t mean to lie to them. And, they'll let you tell them the next lie.

But here’s the rub; they won’t fully trust you to fulfill your promise the second time – and they’ll be about one hundred times less likely to recommend your business to somebody else.

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Making the Customer Feel Cheated

Angry Customer
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If you need an absolute never-fail way of ensuring that a customer never darkens your literal or figurative doorway again, this is it – because this is the one thing that a customer will never forgive.

Customers will make excuses for you – to a point.

Shoddy service? You were having an off day.

No return call? You’re really busy.

A rip-off? We’re done! (And you might be hearing from my lawyer!)

Now obviously, legitimate business people do not go around deliberately trying to cheat their customers.

But you have to be careful to avoid the possible perception that your business is trying to take advantage of customers too. Sales techniques such as upselling may be viewed this way by the customer, so before you use them, consider their potential effect; they might not be suitable for your industry.

Customers’ perceptions of prices are probably the main source of sour feelings about their transactions. All customers are not seeking bargains, but they all expect prices to be fair.

For instance, if a customer selects an item to purchase on Tuesday that you know going to go on sale the next day, you or your staff should point that out to them, leaving the customer to decide whether they want to buy the item today at its full price or tomorrow at a discount. If you don’t, that customer is going to feel mistreated.

And the customer that feels taken advantage of is the one you won’t see tomorrow.

Remember, the true secret of good customer service is that there is no secret. Offer quality goods and services at a fair price and treat customers the way you would like to be treated and those who do business with you will come back again and again.