Customer Service Mistakes

Are you driving customers away? Here are five ways businesses alienate their customers through bad customer service.

Recently I was with some friends lamenting the closing of yet another area business. Let me clarify that — they were lamenting. I was rejoicing. You see, I had been a customer there — and vowed never to be one again.

Don’t get me wrong — I want businesses in my community to thrive. It’s just that some of them don’t deserve to.

If I ask you to list your company’s assets, will you rattle off items such as inventory, office furniture, computer equipment, etc. — and neglect to mention your customers — which is your single most important asset? If so, you wouldn’t be alone. Yet your business exists only because of your customers!

I work for a high-powered, full-service advertising, marketing and public relations agency. The Miami Herald has listed us in the top 15 such agencies in South Florida. There’s a helluva lot we can do to get customers to visit your business. But there’s one thing we can’t do: We can’t convince customers to come back again and again — IF you’ve ignored them, lied to them or been disrespectful to them (or if they perceive that’s the way they’ve been treated).

You can avert certain disaster by putting customer satisfaction at the top of your “Things to do today” list. I’m not Moses, so I’ll give you just five commandments that, if ignored, may not result in your business being struck by a lightning bolt — but you’ll probably suffer a customer drought of apocalyptic proportions.

Acknowledge thy customers
My wife lost her cell phone, made arrangements to pick up a new one at the store. The problem wasn’t that we spent so long in line because there were only two employees — it’s that those employees IGNORED us. Only one of them attended to the customers — while the other concentrated on paperwork! And this while there was a line of impatient people forming! No one even bothered to say, “Sorry about the wait. Someone will be with you in a few minutes.” We might as well have not walked into the store. And we won’t, come contract renewal time.

Honor thy customers
A government office planned a lunch meeting with a dozen local bigwigs. The administrative assistant — I’ll call her Kathy — contacts a restaurant a few days before to make certain they can provide sandwiches. Kathy tells the caterer she needs the food by 11:45 a.m. No problem, she’s told.

By noon on the day of the meeting, no food has arrived … so Kathy calls. The restaurant staffer doesn’t think the sandwiches will be delivered anytime soon because a larger order — for about 150 sandwiches — came in. Kathy explains that she made arrangements way in advance for the restaurant to provide service. Now she has people arriving for a meeting who need to eat lunch — and she needs her order immediately. No can do, she’s told. Kathy asks to speak to the manager. Of course, the manager’s unavailable … but the restaurant staffer says she’ll see what she can do.

The meeting starts. The meeting ends (about an hour later). No one has eaten. Kathy is apologizing all over herself. Shortly thereafter, the restaurant manager calls. She’s got the sandwich order ready and will be delivering it pronto. Kathy explains that she no longer needs the sandwiches — or the restaurant’s business.

Moral of the story: Don’t sacrifice your integrity for the sake of greed. Treat customers as though they’re second class, and they’ll reward you by patronizing your competitor.

Forgive thy customers
A few years ago, I took my family to Disney World. I remembered to pack everything — except the tickets! I panicked, ready to make the two-plus-hour ride back home to get them. But Disney’s Customer Service people assured me there’d be no problem, and provided me with new tickets — without a hassle and without making me feel stupid — or, worse, like a criminal who was trying to sneak into the park. I was so impressed, I told my friends (thus producing “word of mouth” advertising — one of the most powerful tools in any marketer’s arsenal).

Bend for thy customers
I purchased a book of coupons with two-for-one deals at local restaurants. One sandwich shop — clearly listed as a participating establishment — refused to honor it. The manager said she didn’t agree to be represented in the book, and I should call the company that printed it. I was embarrassed.

The deal would have cost them a paltry $7. Not only did I leave, taking with me the $35 I would have spent to feed the rest of my family of seven, I also decided we would boycott their business. So we did, for about a year — easily costing them more than $400. Do the math.

Repent to thy customers
Three years ago, I pick up a pizza at a place we patronized (past tense) frequently (nearly once a week). Take it home, open the box — wrong topping. First mistake. Call the pizza parlor … the staff tells me to drive back to get a new one. Second mistake. Take it home, open the box — burnt to a crisp. Third mistake. Another call to the pizza parlor. Staff tells me to drive back AGAIN to get a new one. Fifth mistake. (No, I didn’t miscount. That mistake was so obnoxious, it counts as two.) In essence, I paid for their incompetence with my time and my gas — and the worst part is: Not one person bothered to say, “We’re sorry.” Haven’t been back since. Again, do the math.

These are just a few personal examples. I’m sure you could cite several of your own. Point is: If you don’t make customer service a priority, your business will likely fail. And you’ll deserve it.

Bob Massey has won state and national awards as a business writer, and is Account Services Director for the Florida Gulf Coast Office of KSR, a full-service marketing agency. You can contact him at (941) 255-1055, or e-mail

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