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Actually, It Is You: Why Customers Dump You

Do any of these sound familiar?

The lawn service had to go. I used them for more than 15 years, and by the last season, my lawn looked terrible. The spring seeding didn’t take, nutsedge and wiregrass consumed half the yard, and they just kept spraying chemicals. I wish somebody had just told me the yard needed grub killer, more topsoil, and organic material. I would have done it. In fact, I did — with somebody else.

• We lost him after 20 years. At the time, I could only describe myself as stunned. I didn’t see it coming. In hindsight, I guess I should have, but I didn’t. He’s now with a new financial advisor who is no better than we are at advising. She lured him away by making him feel important. We blew it. Simple as that.

• We offer great deals to new customers. I’ve got introductory prices, pilot prices, and other discounts I can use. Where things get sticky is retention. Unless a customer leaves, I don’t have a lot of flexibility. This place chases them and then begs them to stay when they threaten to leave. No wonder customers aren’t happy when I take their calls.

People responsible for providing customer service know great customers are not a dime a dozen. Yet, every single day, businesses lose people they’d like to keep. What’s going on? While the root cause could be anything, usually, these defections stem from a few key mistakes.

Mistake 1: You’re Not Checking In

A business assumes longevity equals happy in the relationship; however, the truth is more complicated. There are a lot of “blah” service marriages out there. Just because someone has stuck around a long time does not mean he or she is committed to the service or the service provider. If another business says it can do better, a breakup may be imminent.

Mitigation move: There’s a reason people celebrate anniversaries. Do you have an annual check-in meeting with your customers? If not, consider piloting this process with a select group. The purpose of the meeting isn’t to sell. Rather, it’s to say “thank you,” to ask questions, and, more importantly, to listen.

Smart businesses find creative ways to make check-in meetings work: an energy company offers an annual energy audit to homeowners at no cost; a bank branch schedules time to go over a customer’s accounts, listen to his financial goals, and review new products; or a power-washing company proactively performs an annual spring cleaning assessment and estimate for cleaning. You can probably find a meaningful way to connect with your coatings customers.

Mistake 2: You Aren’t Giving Your Customers Your Best

A business doesn’t think like its customers or have their best interest at heart. Anyone who has ever left a business and then received email invitations to come back at a better rate understands this error. If you could have given me phone service for $14.99 a month, why didn’t you say so when I was paying $34.99? Get away, and goodbye.

Mitigation move: Give your existing customers your best service, best advice, and best deals. Doing so may hurt your wallet in the short term, but in the long run, it’s the right thing to do and it’s a strategy that will build trust and loyalty.

Mistake 3: Your Team Focuses on Itself

A business hires people who focus on themselves. For example, one of your office members tells a regular vendor too much about his life and his problems. At first, you were glad he was connecting. Now, you and the vendor dread hearing about the train wreck that is his situation — especially when no one asked. Lately, you get the feeling that all the vendor wants is peace.

Mitigation move: Live by a customer-first philosophy. The customer is the most important person in the room, not you. No matter how friendly customers are, avoid mistaking conviviality for someone’s desire to focus on you. To put it in math terms, try to do no more than 30 percent of the talking. Instead, spend your time asking good questions and listening to the answers.

Mistake 4: You’re Not Staying in Contact

A business follows a feast-or-famine contact model. For instance, a contractor coated a client’s roof five years ago and he’s getting in touch for the first time now that he’s learned the client might be buying elsewhere. He calls, he texts, he emails, and it’s too late. The customer has signed on with another company that he met at a rotary club meeting.

Mitigation move: Create a contact schedule that makes sense for your business. Also, look at other industries as you create your plan. For example, your hairdresser may have a technique or two that you can borrow for your sales role. You don’t want to be a pest, but, at the same time, you don’t want to be passed over the next time someone needs a new coating system.

They Should Be Your Customers!

With a little effort, you can avoid new mistakes. And over time, you can mitigate any bad choices you’ve made previously. Great customers are great customers, and they’re going to be somebody’s customer. Why not make decisions that will make you the provider of choice?

About the Author:

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit



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