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18 little things that drive customers away

John Graham

With all the talk today about the need to create a great experience for customers, why are so many companies overwhelmed with a tidal flood of customer complaints?

Much of it is little, picky stuff. But small things get big in a customer’s mind, and the next thing you know, the customer is gone — for good. Spotting the little stuff that upsets customers is the first step. The next one is to doing something about it.

Here are examples of little stuff that drive customers crazy — and away:


  1. “We make it easy for you.” For many customers, these words are a red flag. They’ve been duped too often. What’s easy from your viewpoint may be complicated and confusing to your prospects and clients. Check with them or think twice before using “easy” or “convenient.”
  2. Counter-intuitive websites.If visitors get confused when trying to navigate a website, they leave, unwilling to spend any time trying to figure it out. Websites are a marketing tool that must make sense to users.
  3. Making excuses. “Sorry you had a problem. I gave that to my assistant to take care of….” Or, “I meant to get back to you but I was in meetings all afternoon.” Such words inflame client rage, and send the message that someone is disorganized, distracted or incompetent. Your agency should be an “Excuse-Free Zone.”
  4. Slow is a killer.Amazon’s “1-click,” Apple pay, and 4-hour (or less) delivery all point in one direction: fast is never fast enough, as customer expectations go higher and higher. Slow, by whatever standard, isn’t tolerated.
  5. Having to repeat your story. It’s not only frustrating and drives customers out of their minds, but there’s no acceptable reason why it should occur. Yet, it happens all-too-frequently. “Isn’t this information already in your system?” a customer asks. The response is often an unsatisfactory excuse.
  6. Being put on hold endlessly. There is nothing worse than having to hear the same words repeated endlessly: “Your call is important to us. A representative will be with you shortly.” After 25 times the voice adds, “We’re sorry for the inconvenience.” The message the customer hears is different: “My call isn’t important to you.” Customers retaliate by leaving.
  7. Getting differing answers.“The agent assured me…” says the customer when making an inquiry a week later. “Oh, we’ve never done that,” according to someone else at the agency or the carrier. It raises the question, “Can I trust this agent or this carrier? Am I going to get what I expected?” Creating doubt drives customers away.
  8. Putting customers on the defensive. When they asked why something occurred without prior notice, the manager said, “We sent an email to everyone and posted the notice.” That’s how to make customers feel stupid. A better approach may have been, “I understand how you feel if you didn’t get the email. I’ll make sure that’s corrected.”
  9. Lack of knowledge.Even five years ago, having to deal with people who lacked knowledge was irritating, but often ignored. Today, with instant access to endless sources, customers won’t tolerate it. If customers want help, they’ll find it. Ignorance isn’t bliss; it’s lost customers.


• More from John Graham: 22 behaviors that bother prospects and hamper sales

  1. Faking answers to questions. Customers may not know everything, but they figure it out fast when someone makes up answers. It sounds basic, but employees should be empowered to provide accurate information.
  2. Getting passed around. After telling your story, there is nothing more aggravating than to be told, “You’ll have to talk to Martin about that. I’ll transfer you.” Then, you hear that Martin is away from his desk or helping other customers. Today, we get one shot at satisfying customers.
  3. Inconsistency. It’s a lack of consistency that upsets customers. It applies to all types of change, from phone options, to personnel, website navigation, and product/service availability. So, prepare the way with clients before making even small changes. And, remember, clients are smart, so don’t tell them a change is to improve service. They won’t need any help in making that determination.
  4. Not using communication options.Whether it’s texting, a chat line, or a help line, making it convenient for customers to get information or get their questions answered, technology helps maintain customer relationships.
  5. Making things complicated. Don’t make customers jump through hoops if they don’t have to. If you can take something off their plate, do so. Eliminating steps eliminates aggravation. Customers want everything as simple as possible.
  6. Not answering inquiries. Whether it’s a voice mail, an email, a text or an inquiry from your website, make it a priority to get back to your clients as soon as possible. Just because it’s an existing client and not a prospect doesn’t make it any less important to respond in a timely manner.
  7. Lack of follow-through. Broken promises are indelible; they don’t go away. They influence how customers feel about a company from then on, and it’s even worse when customers take the initiative to find out why and are told one or more of the following: “I’m sorry, but I got busy,” or “It slipped through the cracks,” or “I thought I did that,” or “I’m just getting around to it.” Fulfill your obligations.
  8. Not showing appreciation.No client likes feeling ignored or, worse, taken for granted. Relationship-building begins with finding thoughtful expressions for saying “thank you” and “you’re important to us.”
  9. Ignoring social media postings.With so many customers checking out businesses online, negative and inaccurate reviews can be extremely damaging to a brand if ignored.


Such examples make it clear that the little stuff that aggravates customers is a big deal.

• More from John Graham: 22 behaviors that bother prospects and hamper sales

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategist-consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at[email protected], 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.



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