How to Lose Customers – A Case Study

Customer serviceI have been in business for a couple of years now, and along the way I’ve built up a pretty sizable collection of mistakes. Nothing fatal obviously, as I’m still here, but I’ve committed my share of cringers. Like cold-connecting with people when the intention was clearly to promote myself, accepting jobs without checking the details first and having to work through the night on some hideous pdf in illegible handwriting, or even something as simple as hitting “send” on an email in a hurry and realizing a nanosecond too late that I used the wrong name.

It’s not fun. And I’m all about minimizing pain and suffering, so I try to learn from other people’s mistakes whenever I can. Case in point:

I recently had an experience with an optometry shop here in town that has left me baffled as to how they are still in business. Here’s what happened in nutshell.

  • I called to order some new contact lenses. Was put on hold for 7 minutes. Was told they don’t do that over the  phone anymore, and I would have to come in.
  • After I get off the phone it occurs to me that I don’t know if the prescription is still valid or not. If not, they can’t order the lenses anyway because I’d need a new eye exam first, so that would be a wasted trip. I call back. This is indeed the case. I set up an appointment. Mildly irritated that they didn’t think of this themselves.
  • After the exam I order the lenses. This should take 3-4 days and they will call me. Two weeks go by. No call. I call back. The person who does the ordering is gone for the day, but she will call me back the next day.
  • No one calls the next day. I call back. The lenses aren’t in yet. I ask for an explanation. She doesn’t know what happened. But they’ll call as soon as the lenses are in.
  • After two more weeks I clear my schedule and make the 30-minute drive to the store, by now itching for a fight or at least a loud argument. A reluctant search party is formed. Behold, the lenses have arrived! Why did no one call me? But whatever, they’re here! And … it’s the wrong prescription.

It took two more weeks before I finally had my lenses. They never called me once. The thing is, it wasn’t really the delay itself that upset me. Mix-ups happen. What really torqued me was the way they handled it. A post office employee with less than a month before retirement couldn’t have been less interested in solving the problem. I picked up some great tips on how to lose customers, though:

1. Set a deadline, then break it

2. Don’t notify the customer that there is a problem

3. When the customer calls to ask about the delay:

  • Don’t apologize
  • Don’t explain what happened
  • Don’t promise to move heaven and earth to resolve the issue
  • Just promise to call. Then don’t.

4. When the irate customer comes in:

  • Act like this is the first you’ve heard of this
  • Ask for the customer’s name five times
  • Show no concern whatsoever

5. When you finally deliver, get it wrong.

I’m actually kind of impressed, because they’ve been a local fixture for a long time and they obviously still have customers. If I delivered my translations like this, I wouldn’t have a single client left within a month. I guess I should have been warned the first time I walked in the door to find an angry lady shouting at one of the employees, and she wouldn’t leave until they finally threatened to call the police. I figured she was just a jerk, but now I fear that I may have been blaming the victim.

I try to support local businesses, I really do. But Costco is starting to look really good. At least they act like they care.


8 thoughts on “How to Lose Customers – A Case Study

  1. Oh, what a hilarious (and very sad, but so well told) story! Excellent points indeed. And I agree: it’s about how you handle challenging situations and about how you fix them. As you correctly point out: mix-ups do happen, but it’s the provider follow-up that can make or break the relationship. I really enjoy reading case studies like these — keep them coming!

  2. I love your funny (but unfortunately all too familiar) story! In France, where I live, this level of service is commonplace. Obviously not all companies are that bad, but many are. There’s a definite upside though – I can impress clients just by providing a level of service that would be standard in the UK!

    • Haha that’s the true entrepreneurial spirit Caroline! When I came to the US many years ago I was really impressed with the friendly service here, so then when you experience something like this it’s all the more shocking. I just wonder about people like that, because after all they are customers too in other contexts and I’m sure they’d hate to be treated that way. Very strange.

  3. The optometry shop wouldn’t get far in Jundiaí, Brazil. We have the highest number of optometry shops per square foot anywhere in the world! On my street alone (in the city centre) there are over FIFTY optometry shops! Some small and others of major chains like Carol and Diniz. Some even offer popcorn or coffee to attract customers. Others give you ‘free’ eye tests – but only if you buy glasses there. Their service is (usually) good.

    • Wow, you just blew my mind; why are there so many? Are glasses like a fashion statement so people own a lot of pairs? And they must be really affordable then, especially with free eye tests? And popcorn? And coffee?? Glasses here are expensive; even with insurance you’ll easily spend hundreds of dollars on the exam, lenses and frame. And yes, with that much competition their service better be good. I think that may be part of the problem here; there are not that many optometry shops, relatively speaking; just a handful in a city of 600,000 people…. so I guess they feel they can do want :-/

  4. Further to my previous comment – there was even a shop for rent across the road from me, was hoping it would be a post office (badly needed here, five of the seven branches have been closed), a stationers’ or maybe a bank. But you’ve guessed… it was turned into… yes, that’s right!

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