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Nine Mistakes That Can Drive Customers to Your Competitors

Customer service is absolutely essential for retaining customers and building an outstanding business reputation. It may be true that some businesses are successful even though they have poor customer service track records, particularly if they are monopolies. But, in this competitive and volatile economy, it pays to treat customers with the utmost care. Besides good customer service is a matter of integrity.

Listed below are nine mistakes that can drive customers away.

  1. Never doing more for customers than what they paid for: The cost of “freebies” must be weighed against the benefits, but giving customers something extra makes a good impression. For example, (1) providing free delivery, (2) offering a free product, (3) offering complementary services, and (4) providing personalized advice at no additional cost are ways to show customers how much they are valued and help you build long-term relationships with them.

  1. Failing to thank customers: Thanking customers for their business is one of the simplest and most important customer service techniques. So it is surprising how many businesses do not make this simple gesture consistently. Saying “thank you” goes a long way, and it does not cost much. Other ways to show customer appreciation include providing small gifts; sending thank you cards, notes, or e-mails; or giving a discount.

  1. Charging customers for every little thing: Businesses should be fairly compensated for their products and services, but charging customers for every little thing (a) does not create goodwill, (b) can create an impression of greed, and (c) can cause customers to take their business elsewhere.

For instance, I once worked temporarily at a law firm. I was surprised to see that they charged clients for sending faxes on their behalf. Perhaps this is a common and  an accepted practice in this profession.  But there are many things that businesses do for customers such as answering questions or responding to e-mails that take very little time. Is it cost- and time- efficient to note all these little things and charge customers for them? Factoring estimated costs for these types of tasks into the pricing structure provides compensation without potentially antagonizing customers.

  1. Acting out anger towards customers: Sometimes customers are difficult to deal with. They may be rude, immature, uninformed, uncooperative, and overly demanding—among other things. In these cases, anger naturally arises. Remaining calm and finding solutions for customers' problems—even if they are wrong, inappropriate, or out of control—rather than playing into their negative behavior will help you successfully complete the work and maintain your peace of mind.

Of course, abuse from customers should not be tolerated. And sometimes legal intervention cannot be avoided.  No matter the situation, it is good business practice (and necessary mental health care) to avoid emotional battles with customers.

  1. Failing to properly communicate with customers: Clear, accurate, and timely communication with customers demonstrates that a business operates with integrity and values its customers. This is why it is so important to answer phone calls when possible as well as return voice mail, e-mail, and text messages promptly. If customers are being ignored or feel they are being ignored, they might take their business elsewhere.

  1. Responding poorly to negative feedback from customers: Sometimes angry or difficult customers will level harsh criticisms that may not be fair or valid while others may have constructive criticism or legitimate complaints. Regardless of the customer's intent or attitude, try not to become defensive. Focus on re-establishing goodwill and properly addressing the problem.

It is true that one needs to have or develop a “thick skin” to effectively deal with unhappy, angry, or difficult customers, but some people are just more sensitive than others. If you are a more sensitive person, developing techniques for dealing with negative feedback will help you maintain composure.

  1. Not admitting to mistakes: Mistakes are inevitable, and no one likes them. Customers could be harmed by them and the business's reputation could be damaged. Immediately informing customers of mistakes, apologizing, and providing an effective remedy can (a) appease customers, (b) prevent costly legal battles, (c) keep your business's reputation in tact, and (d) help you retain customers.

  1. Being insincere with customers: Customer service involves helpfulness, sincerity, friendliness, and integrity. Inadequate customer service and questionable business practices place a business's needs above its customers' needs. This kind of behavior will turn customers completely off.

For example, I visited a shoe store and asked for a particular type of shoe. The salesman bombarded me with a lot of flattery and unsolicited – even intrusive – advice. He showed me a lot of great shoes and used a lot of pseudo expert “mumbo jumbo” to try to convince me they were right for my needs. But he never showed me the kind of shoe I wanted. He finally admitted he did not have that  shoe in stock. His need to sell the shoes in stock outweighed my need for the pair of shoes that would work best for me. Explaining that the shoe I wanted was not in stock from the beginning would have been the most sincere course of action. Instead, he wasted my time and discounted my needs. And, of course, I didn't buy any shoes.

  1. Not keeping good customer records: Good record keeping is essential for providing good customer service for three important reasons.

Despite our best efforts, we cannot please every customer because some customers are very difficult to deal with, and sometimes we make mistakes.  Regardless of the situation, providing excellent customer service is essential for long-term business success.

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Customer Service Mistakes