Business Advice

Don’t do stupid stuff to your customers

Michel Hogan /

I’m a fan of businesses; they mostly do a good job. However, sometimes the stuff they do makes me sit back and say, “what are they thinking?”. I know customers are often maddening and capricious beings who also do stuff, but the reaction should not punish everyone.

Yet that’s what happens. Take a look at your policies, and I guarantee there is stupid stuff, only there because one time one customer did something that caused a problem or cost you money.

But all too often this stuff has the opposite effect, making it hard for well-intentioned customers to do business with you, be loyal and keep coming back. For every bad apple who caused you pain, there are many other customers silently seething as they jump through the hoops you put in place as a result.

These things can seem like small stuff. And yes, it’s details. But the details matter. In one swoop, those little moments can undo any good feelings. I’ve got three stories about when the details hurt and why it’s worth taking a good long look at places where you might be doing stupid stuff to customers.

To learn more about why you should sweat the details click here.

The cost of parts

The service at the mechanic got done lickety-split, but a couple of leaky hoses needed replacing. Sadly they didn’t have them in stock, but yes, the customer Joe still wanted them replaced. So they finished up the work and said they would order the hoses and call when they arrived to schedule the rest. But Joe didn’t get a call from the service desk; he got a call from back-office asking him to pay upfront for the hoses before they could order them.

Now Joe’s not some random walk in. His family have had cars serviced at this business for three years, putting thousands of dollars into the coffers. The hoses were $75 each (we’ll leave aside the insane cost of car parts). What do you think? Was a policy to make a customer pay $150 upfront for parts before they were ordered worth annoying a loyal customer who had referred others to the business? Surely a quick look at their customer history would have shown Joe was an excellent customer worth taking a $150 chance on?

What punitive policies do you have in place to drive loyal customers to distraction (or the door)?

The chips are down

Dan wanted to specify a paint colour. It’s not something he does everyday but every now and then he needs to get a specific colour. So he wanders into his favourite paint store and asked to see the colour fan (the one with all the commercial colours).

No can do — the paint supplier has decided that it only wants the professionals doing the specifying to have the fans, not the stores. Now Dan has to go online to the paint company’s website and convince them he is a worthy customer so he can apply to get a fan … in two weeks, but which time the job will be done.

What do you think the chances are that Dan walked across the street into the other paint shop that did have a colour fan on hand, chose what he needed and walked out paint in hand? If you guessed pretty good then you are spot on.

I get it — paint fans are expensive to make and some people get them and never use them. But in this day of do-it-yourself renovations and multi-faceted jobs, assuming only professional designers would use one is a serious customer experience flaw.

What cliff-sized barriers do you have in place to stop customers buying your products?

Just the ticket

It was time to grab a ticket to that concert, so Kate went to a ticketing website. She clicked on the event and date and got her ticket options. The price was right, so she clicked buy. And here is where the fun started. To buy the ticket she had to create an account, then give them her email and contact information. More clicks, more information. Finally, Kate got her ticket as the clock timer counted down in the corner.

It’s a ticket to a concert. We expect to hand over credit card information, but why does the company need everything bar a shoe size? Many customers have concerns about having to create ‘accounts’ to buy something and about what happens with the information they provide. 

Just because you have something people want (in this case a concert ticket), shouldn’t be an excuse to have people jump through hoops an acrobat would find stressful to navigate. Hoops that are more about your interest, not theirs.

Are the effort and or information you demand a fair trade for what customers are buying?

Everywhere I look businesses of all sizes do stupid stuff making it hard for customers to be customers. Then they turn around and spend squillions on marketing to try and get more customers or on programs to encourage loyalty.

Here’s a suggestion before you spend one more dollar on getting new customers — do a stupid stuff audit. Look hard at your business, and ask your customers and employees — they’ll know where they are.

See you next week.

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Michel Hogan

Michel Hogan is an independent brand thinker and adviser dedicated to helping you make promises you can keep and keep the promises you make — with a strong, resilient organisation and brand as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com.

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