How To Avoid Needlessly Ticking Off Customers

When was the last time you lost a customer—and you knew you didn’t need to lose them?

What was the problem that caused the breakup? Was it a big issue? Or a little one? My guess, a little one.

And you know this to be true because it happens to you when you’re the customer.

  • Someone didn’t return your phone call
  • Someone was unresponsive or inattentive to you
  • Someone said, “That’s not my department” (or “that’s not my responsibility”)
  • Someone sent you an incorrect bill
  • Someone said, “Hey, that’s just the way the system works. I can’t change it.”
  • Someone promised to do something by a certain date and missed the date (and didn’t even communicate why)

None of those things are “big” in the fullest sense of the word. They’re just annoying. But when they happen often enough, they become the “stick that breaks the camel’s back” and you leave, just like customers leave you.

What’s amazing to me is that all of those issues are fixable … if you simply create a system to fix them.

So, what can you do to avoid unnecessarily ticking off (and sometimes losing) customers that you don’t need to? Well, here are a three ideas to start with.

I. Train Your People In What NOT to Say

Earlier today I received a text from Comcast saying my checking account had just been docked at a rate higher than I should have been. Immediately, I was ticked off. Why? Because when I saw the bill a few weeks ago I called them about the incorrect amount. I spent a long time with their customer service agent explaining why it was wrong and finally got her to fix the account so that I would be charged the correct amount on my auto-billed account in two weeks. Fine … until today when I saw the incorrect number again.

So, I immediately called Comcast (and had to go through their painfully long voicemail system which makes every irate customer even more irate by the time they can actually talk with a live person—note: never do that to a customer). When I finally reached a live person, I explained what had happened. She checked and said, “Yes, I see your call notes. However, the agent who handled this imputed the change order incorrectly which is why you were incorrectly charged on March 5th. However, the system noticed the error and has credited your account $34.55 which will be applied to next month’s bill.”

I said, “For a company that wants to pride itself on good customer service, this is not very good customer service.” I continued, “Let me ask you a question. If I took money that you didn’t owe me from your bank account and then said to you, “Don’t worry I’ll give you back the money that you didn’t owe me in 30 to 60 days, would you consider that good customer service?” To her credit she said, “If you’re asking me personally, no, I would not think that was good customer service.” “Exactly.”

I then said, “So, please credit back my $34.55 today.” She then said words no one should say, “I’m sorry sir, I can’t do that. That’s not the system.” Now, you’re a business person. I’m a business person. And we all know that charge backs can be made on any day. If I can refund an overage as a small business, Comcast certainly can … if they cared. They just don’t. Which is why they’ve rigged the system. Their answer, “That’s not the system,” is a cop-out. You know it. I know it. And that’s why it’s a phrase that should be eliminated from the list of options any of your employees can use.

Think about it. When was the last time that someone said to you, “But that’s not the system,” that you felt any warm fuzzies toward that company? Exactly. Never!

So, make a list of the words and phrases that tick customers and clients (like you) off. And then train your people so they never use them.

  • “That’s not my job”
  • “That’s not my responsibility”
  • “I/We can’t …”
  • “That’s not our process” or “That’s not our system.”
  • “There’s nothing I/we can do about that.”
  • Other: _______________

Go ahead and create your list.

II. Fix the Little Ten Cent Issues Because They Tick People Off More Than the Thousand Dollar Ones

One of the more common mistakes that most business owners and entrepreneurs make about great customer service is that they tend to think that what matters most to customers are the big issues. In a restaurant, it might be the main course. In an accounting firm it’s the document (a tax return or a P&L). In a software firm it’s the software.

But rarely are those the issues that tick people off. For example, using the restaurant example, what are some of the ten-cent problems that often tick customers off?

  • The restaurant was too cool (or too hot).
  • The bill was inaccurate
  • The coffee cup wasn’t clean
  • The coffee was old
  • The seat was uncomfortable
  • There was a tear in the seat
  • The noise level was too loud so it was hard to carry on a conversation (or so quiet that it felt like everyone was eavesdropping on your conversation)
  • The room was too dark (or the sun was so bright and it was hard to look at the person across the table from you)
  • The server forgot to bring something you ordered (or they forgot about you), etc.

Like I said, it’s rarely the big item (in this case, the food or main course), but the small items that tick people off (and cause them to leave and never come back)

Note: Restaurants rarely pay attention to temperature (they’re usually clueless, often because they’re running around or going in and out of the kitchen)—but it’s a big issue. In fact, Jacquie and I were at a Panera Bread the other week and it was FREEZING. Trust me, it’ll be a while before we’ll give them a second chance. The food was fine for Panera. The problem was the temperature.

III. Put In Place a System to Stay In Touch Regularly

How many times have you bought something, especially something with a recurring monthly or yearly amount, and never heard again from them? My guess is virtually all of the time.

Isn’t that interesting? You’d think they’d want to stay in touch, wouldn’t you? They have virtually guaranteed income from you and yet, they take you for granted. So, what happens when you feel like you’re being taken for granted? Exactly. You’re open to being bought by someone else with a new shiny thing.

Think about it. When was the last time your insurance agent just called to check up on you (and not to sell you on anything)? How about your financial planner? Your accountant? Your internet provider? Your dentist? Your gas company? Your pest control company? Your favorite restaurant? Your airline of choice? Your cable provider? Your attorney? Your coffee or water company? Etc.

Well, guess what? If you don’t like it, what do you think that says about your customers and clients? Exactly. They feel the same way.

When I talk with business owners and entrepreneurs who’ve recently lost a client/customer and I ask why, the answer is almost always because they forgot to stay in touch with that customer. In fact, I just had one of those conversations today.

So, don’t do that. Put in place a system that forces you and/or your people to regularly touch base with your clients and customers—not to sell them anything more—but just to stay in touch. Invest in the relationship. And then, when the time is right, ask them for a referral or an upsell—but not in the first conversation, nor in every conversation. Build the relationship and all of the rest will follow.

Now, obviously, we can discuss a number of other ways to avoid needlessly ticking off customers, but these three will get you started.

  1. Train your people in what not to say (create a list and then teach it continually)
  2. Fix the little ten-cent issues because they tick people off more than the thousand dollar ones (make your list and fix them)
  3. Stay in touch regularly (create a system to touch base at least twice a year)

If you do these three things, I’m confident you’ll significantly reduce the potential for you and your business to unnecessarily tick off some of your current customers—which is a good thing! Some business owners think that customer retention is a nebulous or theoretical subject. I don’t. I think it’s pretty practical and pragmatic. And these three ideas are pretty pragmatic suggestions that can definitely help you retain more of the customers you don’t want to lose!

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you have some other ideas about how to avoid needlessly ticking off customers, make sure you add them in the comments section below!

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