How to Lose Customers

The companies that emerge the strongest from the recession and today’s slow recovery will be those who have built and maintained a reputation for really caring about their customers’ concerns. It’s no surprise that people like to do business with organizations that make them feel that their interests, needs and priorities are important. Longtime clients will readily walk away from companies who make it evident that, once paid, they do not really care what their customers think. 

“A reputation for a thousand years may depend upon the conduct of a single moment,” wrote Ernest Bramah. The people with whom your clients come in contact can have a positive or devastatingly negative impact on their feelings about your company. Client irritation may soon reach critical mass if one bad interaction is followed by another – and no caring employee steps in to save the day.

A recent experience helped to reinforce this point. After years of passable performance, our Ford Windstar minivan suddenly stalled in traffic while my wife was driving home one day. The steering wheel immediately locked.  Fortunately she was able to avoid an accident and get home. I took it to the Ford dealer from whom we purchased it. Their Service Department examined the van and also checked on a new recall for a defect that could cause a serious accident. Ford declared our Windstar unsafe to drive and tendered a generous offer to buy it back. I immediately accepted.

I was at one of The Allied Group's offices and needed a way to get home. When I called the dealer’s service writer, he informed me that Ford had made a good offer and would provide no rental car for me. My protest that they had left me stranded accomplished nothing. He said, “We can’t afford rental cars for every customer who’s involved in this recall. You’re free to drive your (unsafe) car home.” Besides, he claimed, the nationwide auto rental company on the premises had no cars available – there were “none in the entire region.”

I, of course, found a car from the same nationwide rent-a-car company just 15 minutes away. And when I arrived at the dealer to sign Ford’s buyback offer, I found that it clearly stated that Ford would provide a rental for a limited period of time. After he finally read that, my service writer suddenly became very accommodating, but the damage was done. My previous conversation with him had made it clearly evident that he cared little, if at all, about my predicament.

A week later, after two phone calls to Ford there was still no news about my check. Their representative said the dealer would provide it.  One of dealership owners offered to do that – but only if I bought another Ford from him. Otherwise I would have to wait a month for my money. 

There was never an ounce of concern or sympathy for my quandary. This dealer would have gladly left me stranded, miles from home.  And now they planned to hold my money hostage to force me to buy another car from them. I declined. The attitude they showed when the chips were down convinced me to never buy from them again.  

A company can have great products or marketing integration / marketing communications strategies. Still, consumers today have too many options to treat them in a cavalier manner. Are your employees’ customer contacts enhancing your reputation - or destroying it?

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