An Easy Way To Lose A Customer

All of us who own businesses or whose jobs require us to acquire clients know how difficult it can be to find a new customer.

The task can, at times, can be lengthy, arduous and challenging. A friend of mine in the health benefits business acquired a new client several years ago after calling on that company every year for 25 years.

It is long been said that the cost of retaining a good client is a mere fraction of that of getting a new one and one would think that with such high acquisition costs  everyone involved in dealing with customers would do absolutely everything within their capability to ensure they hold onto all of their customers.

One would think.

One would be wrong.

In just the last few weeks three of my clients have shared with me stories of poor customer service resulting in them taking your business elsewhere and in each case their decision to do so was driven by one reason.

Their calls were not returned.

In the first example, my client had been dealing with the same insurance agency for more than 20 years. He owns three homes, seven vehicles shared by his family members and a business that at any time houses more than one million dollars of inventory. All his insurance had been placed within this agency

The agency was sold last year, and he was assigned a new broker to replace the one who had retired when the agency sold.

Several weeks prior to him telling me his story he had purchased a new vehicle for his delivery fleet and had left a message for the broker to call him in order to arrange the necessary insurance. Three days later he left a second message and one week after that he left a third.

Two weeks to the day he had left the first message he left a fourth one stating that he had obtained insurance elsewhere.

The following afternoon there was a somewhat terse message from the broker informing him that he had been away on vacation, he deserved vacation and was a little miffed to learn that this new vehicle was now insured elsewhere.

My client did call back and leave message. This one was to inform the broker that effective immediately all his insurance was now being transferred to a different brokerage.

He is not an unreasonable person. He agreed wholeheartedly that this broker deserved a vacation but, as he pointed out to me, “I don’t like working with amateurs and what a true professional does when they go on vacation is simply to change the greeting on their voicemail letting their customers know they are away, informing them when they will be back and offering a simple alternative to their service requirements.”

Of course, he’s right. When we leave a message, we have an expectation of our call being returned within a certain period of time and, as we have often discussed, most conflict occurs when our expectations go unmet. He simply stated the obvious: professionals think and act differently than amateurs.

Ironically, my wife and I moved our insurance from one broker to another for precisely the same reason. After we had done so I called the manager of our previous brokerage and left a message asking whether it would be of interest to her to know why they had lost our business.

One year later she still has not returned my call although I do expect to hear from her any day now.

The second example involved a client of mine who recently added a 2,000 square foot extension to her home.

An enormous project.

After months of working with both an architect and a designer and meeting all the necessary compliance requirements, she called a renovation company that had been highly referred to her by two close friends.

She had the phone number for the owner of the company and called him directly. He answered the phone, explained that he was in the middle of something and asked if he could call her back within an hour.

He didn’t. Nor did he call the next day, nor the one after.

Assuming he had simply forgotten, my client called back and left a detailed voicemail. A week later she left another message and then left on a two-week vacation. When she returned she tried again, and waited 10 days to hear from him.

Then she called someone else and after a few days of meetings and negotiations signed a contract worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and today is delighted with the work that gave her “the house of my dreams.”

In the third example my client was looking for a courier company to deliver packages to 12 different locations every weekday for a period of three months.

He had been given the name of the owner of a local courier company and left three messages for him over a two-week period before engaging different company to do these 700+ deliveries for him.

Three companies lost around $1,000,000 of business all for the simple reason of not returning calls.

My good friend Ross MacInnes taught me many years ago that “one way or another we always pay for our education,” and these three companies may never know how much they’ve paid for theirs.

And quite possibly, despite having paid an enormous price, they may well have not learned the lesson.

To me, stories like this are beyond my comprehension and yet each of us can relate to a similar experience.

Perhaps some of us have been on the wrong end of that lesson and have, hopefully, come away wiser, if perhaps poorer.

Rather a lesson learned than a lesson ignored. Either way, there is a tuition cost.

Till we read again.

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