No one wakes up in the morning thinking, “Today I’m going to alienate my customers.” Yet, epic fails in customer service occur every day. Could you be sabotaging your success without realizing it? Check out these top ten common things that cause customers to stop working with you and seek out the competition.

1. Wing it. You may intuitively know how to handle customers well, but consistent high level service across all team members is what keeps them coming back. Customers expect all service providers to offer the same responsiveness, the same attention to detail, and the same high level of care. Does every employee in your organization have the same definition of what it means to be responsive? Does everyone set out to make the customer feel valued? Are standards in place so that the customer experience is consistently great? If not, you’re sending mixed messages. Don’t wing it. Set clear standards for positive client experiences to increase your number of happy customers.

 2. Call all the shots. Confidence is a good thing, though even if you’re brilliant, have good instincts, and a great track record, you can’t know what you don’t know. Everyone has blind spots. Rather than assume you always know what’s best, make a practice of asking for the ideas of people in different areas and departments. There’s knowledge to be gained from those who work closely with customers, vendors or other team members. There is brilliance within your company just waiting to be found. Encourage everyone to share their best ideas and factor it into your decisions to produce the best possible results.

 3. Avoid uncomfortable conversations. Customers sometimes leave scathing emails and angry voice mail messages. Coworkers cop attitudes. Those in positions above (and below) you sometimes lack insight into how service breakdowns could be avoided. People shy away from uncomfortable conversations when they’re afraid of conflict or worry that things will only get worse if they call out what’s wrong. That avoidance becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Conflict, well-handled, creates clarity, awareness and stronger relationships. Approach uncomfortable conversations with compassion and curiosity. Set out to understand the other person’s point of view and share your thoughts with the intention of making things better for everyone. Some conversations take preparation so you’re in a responsive instead of reactive state of mind, but don’t let that “preparation” be an excuse for putting it off too long. Ask for help when you need it, and communicate in a way that turn even the most upset people into a happy customers.

4. Put tasks before people. If you’ve ever waited while a service provider refills a napkin dispenser, tends to paperwork, or takes a lengthy phone call, you know how irritating it can be. Put the customer relationship first. Tasks must get done, but there are ways of making customers feel important, even when there’s a short wait involved. Make eye contact, greet them, or take a moment to pause and say, “I’ll be off this phone call very soon. Sorry for the wait.” Review any point of customer contact where tasks interfere with your ability to be attentive to the customer to find solutions that create a more positive impression.

5. Pit internal team members against each other. You may not intend to drive down sales with internal competition, though are you? A CEO I worked with saw sales go up dramatically when he changed individual commissions to a commission pool. His sales team now works collaboratively so that customers experience seamless service that’s not dependent on individual sales staff schedules. When team members feel it’s not safe to work collaboratively or share problems, progress is slowed. Teams that support one another are more likely to find solutions and make the customer happy more quickly.

6. See customers as problems, not people. Your body language and tone of voice contribute more to communication that you might expect. Customers can read your dislike or mistrust of them. It impacts their experience and the likelihood of ongoing business with them. Your mindset matters. When a customer is angry or complains, don’t take it personally. See each customer as a person first – someone who needs your help. When their words are harsh, realize that they’re doing the best they know how to do in that moment. See it as a call for help and give yourself the challenge of converting them from upset to utterly pleased. You have the power to increase your number of happy customers, but only when you focus on strengthening the relationship.

7. Solve problems too quickly. When customers complain, they want you to listen. They need to have their concerns heard and validated. Don’t interrupt their complaints by jumping in with a solution. Doing so leaves them feeling dismissed and frustrated. They’ll be receptive to a solution only after they feel heard and understood. Slow down and let the customer vent. Validate their feelings and needs first. Then, offer a solution.

8. Stop investing in yourself. You’ll never be done learning, especially not if you want to stay relevant in your field. Invest in continuous improvement. The more you improve your competencies and those of your team, the more relevant you will be to your customers. Read books. Stay current on trends in your industry, and regularly invest time and money in training.

9. Let the few ruin it for the many. There will always be that customer who tries to take advantage, lie, or cheat. While that may be true, most customers are good people. It’s easy to get jaded and make good customers jump through hoops to resolve service issues. Review your policies to find those that may be having a negative impact on customers. Don’t make customers go through extremes to resolve a problem that could be easily handled. The easier you make it to do business with you, the more business customers will bring you.

10. Forget to make good last impressions. A lot is said about making good first impressions, but what about the value of last impressions? At the end of every customer interaction you have an opportunity to leave them feeling good about working with you. And those last impressions leave a lasting impression. Check in with customers by asking, “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” Review what’s been done. Thank the customer for their business, and take a moment to say, “I look forward to working with you again!” How you treat the customer after a service or sale matters. It influences how likely they’ll be to come back and what they tell their friends and family about their experience. Make those last moments count.

What about you? Have you found this top ten list helpful? What would you add?

Marilyn Suttle is a customer experience expert, professional conference speaker, and coauthor of the bestselling book, Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan. Marilyn delivers customer service and communication skills keynotes and workshops, to help her audiences create strong, productive relationships in every area of life. For more information email: marilyn@marilynsuttle.com or visit www.whosyourgladys.com.

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