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Does Your Small Business Annoy Customers?

When I’m giving speeches to groups of small business owners or working with them to build their own marketing systems,  I tell them everything we do in business is marketing; from how we answer our phones, to our billing,  to how we treat future and existing customers.  Marketing is about more than attracting new customers to do business with us – it s about keeping, nurturing, and “wowing”  the ones we have so they buy from us again and again and rant and rave about our company to everyone they know. 

I had some customer experiences lately that I thought I’d share and see what you all think….

I recently moved into a new apartment. It’s one of those large apartment communities with an onsite office and a team of people to assist tenants and run the property.  Here’s what my experience has been like in my short stay here so far: 

I just want clean jeans!

We have onsite laundry facilities, which is nice.  Before I moved in they told me the machines take cards which you can pre-load with cash to save you the trouble of having to scrape and buy quarters! “This is convenient”, I thought.

Well what they didn’t tell me is that you have to actually purchase the card for $5 and you can’t just go to the laundry room and use your ATM card to load this laundry card, no, you can only load it at the office during office hours and you can only use fives or twenties; no ones, no tens, no change.  – Oh and the office does not provide change – I walked in with a ten dollar bill my first time and was told I’d have to walk a block to 7-11 (and buy something) to get change.

Frustrated, I thought “the heck with it, I have enough quarters lying around, I’ll just use my quarters to do my laundry today”.   So I go back to my apartment, gather up my laundry and a handful of quarters and head to my new laundry room for the first time. Well didn’t I feel like quite the fool, the coin operated machines DON’T TAKE COINS!  So they got me – I HAVE to purchase their little card and I HAVE to play by their rules if I want clean clothes. So this is how it’s going to be, huh?  

So this “convenience” turned out to be an inconvenient money-making opportunity for the management company… not a great start.

 Rip me off – please!

 Next, I  left my keys in the lock of the front door after walking my dog Capone one day and they  were stolen right out of out of the door…( I heard the “perp” take them…ok, too many detective shows! )  In a panic I called the office, which is about 100 yards away from my front door. I told them the story and asked if they could change my locks right away. “Sure”, they said, “just come to the office and give us a check for $95- you have to pay up front.”

Me: “Umm, but someone has the key to my apartment, I don’t want to leave…”

Them: “Well, we can’t change your locks until we have a check – and it has to be a check from the bank account on file; no cash, no money orders and  no cashier’s check.”

Me: “Umm… but someone has the key to my apartment…”

Them: “Well you have to pay up front or we can’t change your locks”

So this is what I heard: “Our $95 is more important than your safety and this is your problem, figure it out”.

They wouldn’t change the locks first – or offer to come and get the check, or even have the maintenance guy get the check from me before he did the work. NO, they insisted I leave my apartment, to which a stranger had a key and hand deliver them payment…  I’m not sure which part of “a stranger has a key to my apartment” they didn’t understand.  

 Alternate scenarios

I’m not writing this to complain or vent about less-than-great customer service (OK, maybe I am a little), I’m writing this because these are perfect examples of the little things businesses do – or don’t do – that influence customer experience. These are 2 great examples of where a company could have “wowed” me but instead made me feel like a mere cog in their gigantic cash-wheel.  

 Imagine how delighted I’d have been if upon move-in they handed me a laundry card loaded with $10 and said, “Here is your free laundry card to get you started” (you could even bury the cost in the security deposit, if you must!).  Instead of feeling nickel and dimed, inconvenienced,  and sorry that  I’m living in a place run by a huge faceless, uncaring, inhuman corporation that only cares about the bottom line, I’d have been happy and thankful.

Or what if one of the three women who work in the office had offered to walk the 100 yards to my apartment  to pick up my check for the lock change fee so that I didn’t have to worry that I might be walking  into an ambush when I came back to my apartment?  Imagine how I’d have felt if they put my safety ahead of their lousy $95 and “corporate policy”. Do you think that would have made me a raging fan? I probably would have been writing a very different blog!

A lesson for all business owners

So I challenge you to reflect: what do you do in your business to make your customers feel special? To make them feel taken care of?  And, what do you do to make them feel put out and inconvenienced? It may be the little things you never even considered. I advise business owners all the time to think of ways they can ‘wow” their customers every day – it isn’t easy and you need to step outside of your business and look at it with a fresh set of eyes (customer surveys are a great tool to do this).  But I guarantee, if you can achieve that your business will thrive!

Leave your comments here.


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4 Responses

  1. Carolyn, seems like this is going on quite frequently, sad to say! We have a grocery chain in NY called Wegmans. It was born on customer service. Every time we go back to New York, which is twice a year, when I go into this store I am amazed all over again. Both of my children worked for Wegmans and were taught that the customer is ALWAYS right!

    You are right, in every business, it should be customer first. Great post Carolyn!

    1. Carolyn


      Thank you so much for your comment. I can relate to your example… My first job was Dunkin Donuts in upstate NY – they were fanatics about customer service and taught me well. It drives me crazy to walk into a Starbucks now, see 3 people behind the counter doing other things and ignorning customers standing at the counter. Without customers they don’t have all those “other things” to do. Dunkin Donuts drilled us – you drop whatever you are doing and take care of the customer – apparently Starbucks doesn’t teach that same skill. Sometimes I wonder if its arrogance….


  2. Carolyn


    As someone who has been working with you for a while now, I know you have the “wow” factor down.

    Thank you very much for your comment!


  3. Great post, Carolyn. And a timely topic for me.

    Here’s my scenario:

    Client 99, for whom I have worked hard and sacrificed profits (and even taken those painful but short-term losses) to develop a long-term relationship with asked me to put together a last-minute holiday promo. Basically, it’s their online marketing stab at the holiday season that is hoped to increase membership.

    Client 99: Scott, we want to do a Holiday Special. Buy 1 membership and get the 2nd one for $125. The tagline is something like, “Give the gift of membership,” for a friend, colleague or co-worker. The offer expires December 31st and we know we got a late start on asking you to do this.

    Client 99: Oh, and while you’re at it, see if you can whip up something for a CyberSale that gives people a discount to our annual Holiday Mixer if they buy any level of membership.

    Scott: No problem. We’re tight on time but I will be able to take care of it. I’ll do the e-commerce side of it on your website (since you are e-blasting it through your channels) for $150. Both offers with separate PayPal functions and new announcement posts written. And I’ll throw in two nice graphics for the offers, no extra charge. [I know, good deal, eh?!]

    Client 99: [1 day later] Um, our Board has decided to not do the offers. Scap the project.

    Scott: Did they decide to scrap the project because of my fee? If so, I am willing to do what I can to help.

    Client 99: They were “meh” about the idea anyway, and your fee was the tipping point.

    Scott: Tell your Board I will do one of the offers at no cost. It will be my Christmas present to your organization. Also, I had already started working on one of the graphics in anticipation of needing to get a jump on your work. I’ve emailed a rough draft for your review. Let me know what you think.

    Client 99: (1 hour later] “Scott, You are so amazing. Honestly. And the graphic looks really wonderful. I hope Board Member X will use this as part of his pitch to the Board***.

    ***I had submitted a proposal to their Board for scalable levels of website maintenance and webmaster services just this past Friday.

    Now, the above script is just a thumbnail sketch of what I think qualifies for the “wowing” your post talks about. At the very least, news of my Christmas present will probably get up-channeled to the organization’s President/Board; it may also help them make a decision that favors my service proposal and it will certainly be a relationship builder with Client 99.

    As a sole proprietor, I often fight that mental battle of underselling myself vs. standing ground to make the necessary profit vs. relationship building. I am finding, little by little, that relationship building is probably the way to go and the other two will fall in line.

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