Six Ways To Lose Customers

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Author John Towler, Ph.D.

Why consistently good customer service is critical in today's business environment.

When I saw a coupon in a business magazine offering a box of diskettes free to anyone who dropped into a new computer store, I thought this would be a good opportunity to replenish my supply. I also wanted to look at two software programs, so taking a colleague in tow; I trotted off to the shop.

After standing around for several minutes while the receptionist watched but said nothing we were finally approached by a salesman. We presented the coupon and told him we were interested in some software. Imagine our surprise when he merely replied that they were out of diskettes and turned away.

“Wait,” we said, “when will you have more?”
“I don’t know, “ he said. “But you could go to our other store for them.” This didn’t seem very reasonable to us, since their other store was in another city.

“We’d like to look at some software,” we said. He replied that they didn’t carry what we wanted, so we left the store disappointed and disgruntled.

A week later, I was in the city where the other store was located, so I decided to try again. When I presented the coupon, I was informed that it was no longer any good. When I asked why, the salesman told me it had expired two days ago. “But, “ I said, “it doesn’t have any expiry date on it, and your other store told me to come here!”

“Well, that’s not my fault,” he said. “The printer forgot to put on the date, and the other store had no business telling you that.”

This piqued my curiosity, so I asked to the store manager why they had run the promotion. He seemed surprised that anyone would ask. It was clear in his mind that its purpose was to introduce people to the company and to show off their products and services. After hearing about my experiences, he apologized, and then saw me to the door. He never offered to sell me either the diskettes or the software.

Instead of generating goodwill and making a sale, these people lost the sale and our business forever. This is the first way to lose customers. None of these salespeople were skilled in sales or how to treat customers. Salespeople must be able to close a sale and get the order. But this doesn’t happen by magic. You must have the right people with the right skills and the right attitude.


The second way to lose customers is to treat them as idiots with brains only slightly larger than peas. It usually occurs when a customer is attempting to purchase a new machine or product with features they haven't used before. Good salespeople are willing to spend whatever time it takes to explain the features. Bad ones treat you like a moron because you don't understand.

My neighbour Susan was treated this way when she was shopping for her first computer. The salesman asked her what features she wanted. When she said she didn't know, the salesman sighed and rattled off a long list of unintelligible words and phrases. Susan told him she didn't have the least idea what he was talking about and when he said, "Well, if you don't know about computers, how do you expect me to help you?”, she walked out and never returned.

The third way is to argue with customers. Some salespeople enjoy this. They think that it is fun, will break up a boring day, or enable them to show off in front of other staff members. However, it seldom leads to a sale and it usually sends customers to the competition. Salespeople who do this don’t last long but they can do a lot of damage until you catch them.

The fourth way is to have salespeople who can't stand up to determined, loud, or abrasive customers. Confronted by such a customer, they cave in and agree to impossible delivery dates, overly generous discounts, extended warranties, and may even throw in an extra item or two for good measure.

The fifth way is to have salespeople who know less about your products or services than your customers. Your salespeople should know everything there is to know. This is especially true for staff in order-intake departments. Nothing is more frustrating for customers, or more likely to result in a screw-up, than order-takers who don't have a clue about the product being ordered. If they haven't seen it, touched it, smelled it, tasted it, used it, or seen it in operation, they shouldn't be selling it.

The sixth way is to hire salespeople who know nothing about negotiation. These people are at a serious disadvantage when they come up against a skilled negotiator. Anyone with good negotiation skills can convince a salesperson to lower the price, give better terms or add something for nothing.

How can an employer avoid these problems? Start by choosing the right people. Instead of waiting for a born salesperson to walk in the door, use a test to help you select people with the selling skills and customer service attitudes you want. There are tests that measure honesty, sales aptitude, customer relations skills, accuracy, sales responsibility, sales orientation, sales understanding, sales arithmetic, and sales potential. There are also tests that will tell you whether someone can be trained to become a good salesperson and who is capable of being a good sales manager. These tests more than pay for themselves in increased sales.

The second way is to train your staff. Help them acquire the selling techniques they need and the product knowledge they must have. Then watch over them. Reward good performance, correct poor performance and replace the ones who cannot or will not produce.

John Towler is a Psychologist and the founder of Creative Organizational Design. Please send comments about this article to jtowler@creativeorgdesign.com. For more information, please contact us.

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