The little stuff that drives customers away

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 customer 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 a company’s viewpoint may be complicated and confusing to its customers. Check with them 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 customer rage, and send the message that someone is disorganized, distracted or incompetent. Companies 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 computer?” a customer asks. The response is often an unsatisfactory excuse.

6. Being put on hold endlessly. There is nothing worse that 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 salesperson assured me…,” says the customer when making an inquiry a week later. “Oh, we’ve never done that,” according to someone else. It raises the question, “Can I trust this company? 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.

10. 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 get accurate information.

11. 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.

12. Inconsistency. It’s a lack of consistency that upsets customers. It applies to all types of change, from phone options, to personnel, website navigation, discounts, return policies, and product/service availability. So, prepare the way with customers before making even small changes. And, remember, customers are smart, so don’t tell them a change is to improve service. They won’t need any help in making that decision.

13. 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.

14. Making things complicated. The CVS clerk rang up the purchases and keyed in the coupons, until he came to the $6 “good customer reward.” Pointing to a coupon dispenser, he said, “You need to get it from the machine over there first and come back.” Not good. Customers want everything as simple as possible.

15. Not answering inquiries. The button on the restaurant’s website, said, “Send us a message,” noting that it will be answered within an hour. Three weeks later, still no response. The story is repeated when the name of this restaurant comes up. Tending to customers is as important as working the grill.

16. Making changes without telling customers. Let customers know why, and when you’re making changes. The city was buried in snow, but the Boston Globe emailed its home delivery customers letting them know the Sunday edition would come at night when there was less traffic. Result: happy readers and a lot fewer complaints.

17. 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.” Customers deserve timely responses.

18. Not showing appreciation. No customer 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.”

19. Ignoring social media postings. With so many customers checking out businesses online, negative and inaccurate reviews can be damaging to a brand if ignored.

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

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, 617-774-9759 or

One comment

  1. We hear so many positive comments about our service and knowledge base but yet I see in this list there are still things we can do better. Thank you for opening my eyes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *