How To Lose Customers

There are many ways to lose customers – some actually more difficult than others. The simplest, fastest and most effective way to lose your customers is from a short, flippant, most-often ill-advised quick use of one, two-letter word: “No”
Of course, there is always a way to get to yes or, at least maintain, or even grow, a positive customer service reputation. These responses to customer inquiries can easily start or take the form of one of the following:
• “Yes”
• “Of course we can”
• “Let me see what I can do”
• “I can refer you to ‘Jones and Co’ who can”
• “That’s a terrific suggestion! Can you give me some time to work on it for you?”
• “We may not be able to do that this time but come back and I’ll be sure we can!”
Regular readers of these articles know that most of my topics come from personal observations and experiences. So, what is it that sparked this article? Despite the many happy returns to numerous restaurants in the Alberni Valley in which I have successfully balanced my need for both flavor and healthy choices by ordering half fries and half salad with my entrée I was taken aback when recently visiting a restaurant recommended by others for a lunch meeting. When the server asked if I’d like fries or salad with my roast turkey sandwich (in which I’m still actually trying to find the turkey…but that’s another topic for another time!) I made my usual, polite request to have half fries and half salad. To my initial amusement the server responded with a flat “no”. I thought she was joking but to my amazement she was serious: “No. You cannot have half salad and half fries because it would make my chef angry” was the reply when I asked again. I understand that good help is hard to find; especially a skilled chef. But, clearly the server or the chef or, the owner for that matter, didn’t understand that good are even harder to find and keep! Normally, I’d get up and leave but time was short and, rather, I decided that, at least, I have a topic for an article.
Now some of you, I’m sure, are thinking, that splitting my side between fries and salad isn’t a big deal and I’m being nit-picky. Well, perhaps. But, if, in fact it isn’t a big deal then why couldn’t the request be filled? And, it makes me wonder what other responses or activities are being done by this particular business that run contrary to simple customer expectations. Keep in mind that it is the little things that leave lasting impressions. Also, remember that businesses really do represent our community; especially those in the hospitality and service sector. I wonder how many visitors to our community also went to this restaurant only to also be disappointed by this flippant attitude and apparent lack of flexibility to dietary concerns. If this is the lasting impression visitors have of our Community With A Heart – that businesses don’t care – then this “no big deal” quickly becomes a concern for those of us who advocate for or operate business, economic and community development activities.
While I may be venting somewhat here the lesson is simple: the fastest way to upset and lose a customer, not to mention the negative word that can and does quickly spread, is to say no to a simple, reasonable request. Heck, I’ve never had that response from any other establishment in town I’ve patronized. So, I’ve decided that in order to keep myself sane (not to mention those around me who often get to endure one of my long winded, but, highly entertaining, rants) I will not go back to this particular restaurant again. Hard lesson learned; for the restaurant and me.
I concede that not all customer requests or questions can be satisfied immediately by a business or its staff. However, there is always a way to respond positively or at least in a way that makes the customer feel like you’ve done your best to satisfy them. Some phrases to help kick start a positive conversation with customers are suggested, above. The other key to doing your best to satisfy a customer is to actually engage in a genuine conversation with them that will provide logic behind an answer that may not otherwise be what the customer wants to hear. However, in this case, it will at least look like you care and, at best, provide a possible solution by referring the customer to another business that can, indeed, help.
From my experience as a loyal customer of local and independent small businesses and as someone who provides advice to businesses on a regular basis I know that there really are simple solutions to many of the most complex problems. The starting point is having an empowered staff that possesses a positive attitude based on the fundamental foundation of providing solutions to customers even if those solutions cannot be immediately provided but positively explained. If customers are able to have this type of experience than you are likely to keep them – even if you can’t serve a dish with half fries and half salad.