14 Ways You Aren’t Putting Customers First

Over the years, I’ve come across many a mission statement that involved putting customers first.  So why is customer experience shoddy across the board?

The U.S. Overall Customer Satisfaction index shows slow improvement, but the current rate of 76.7 percent reveals a massive opportunity for improvement.

Walking the talk is harder than it looks.  Target markets and ideal clients are difficult to define, for sure.  However, there are some common ways you aren’t putting customers first that are easily fixed.

In one organization, posters in the boardroom said something about managerial courage.  As I facilitated a group voting session, I noticed that the participants were waiting to vote by rank.  The poster had tricked me into believing a blind vote wasn’t necessary, but playing before my eyes was a leadership echo chamber.  Bluntly, I didn’t need the 15 people in the room; I only needed the most senior when that’s the case.  In an attempt to recover from what was shaping up to be an epic fail, I pulled him aside to ask.  That’s when he told me the poster wasn’t a celebration of reality, nor an aspirational goal.

I’ve learned to believe what people do, not what they say.  Words are aspirations of the logical mind.  It doesn’t make the decisions or run the show.  It can intervene when you are smart enough to interject, but normally that voice in your head is doing other things, commenting and judging other people, reminding you of what’s coming next or ruminating about what just happened.  If there’s one thing you’re probably not doing, it’s staying present in the moment with a silent mind.  When you do that, it’s unbelievable the things you will see.

For instance, here’s what I’ve seen happen in places where they declare the customer is first, where they don’t argue with me that the customer matters, and where they still get it colossally wrong. If you’re doing any of these fourteeen things, you are spending too much time and money on a turnstile of customers and we are all paying for it.

You’re first.

You aren’t putting customers first when you are selling what you want to sell, not what the customer wants to buy.  You are where you want to be, not where your customers are.  Your operating model is based on how you want to do it, not the way they need.

Virgin Mobile is so excited about everything; they tell me my bill is ready with an exclamation mark.  Yay.  Constrast this tiny thing with Spotify.  Reading this article made me rethink my music consumption and stop using the service, because I have pie in the sky ideas and dreams too.  Spotify’s customers has to include the artists, what would it be without music creators?

Putting yourself first instead of customers shows up fast in your lack of profitability, which creates the next problem.

You’re desperate.

Last week, I told you how I lost $3,000 to Pat Mussieux.  In her sales pitch, she tells a story of being completely overwhelmed by debt, and that her coach advised her to buy his expensive coaching package because that kind of investment will ensure she’s committed to her success.  She then turns around and tries to convince you to go into debt with her program.

Desperation eliminates right action.

When you are overwhelmed with debt, you can’t give refunds because you’ve spent the money before it came in.  To be able to act right, you need a cushion of resources.  You need time, money, and energy.

In organizations, who are the customer service agents?  The absolute bottom of the hierarchy, with the least tenure and the crappiest tools.  They aren’t set up for success, and everyone knows it.

If you’re out there trying to stay away from desperate businesses, you need to ask about their profitability because they will want to tell you their revenue.  It’s impressive to have made a million dollars last year, but not if it cost them a million to do it.  Be warned, Ponzi schemes can happen anywhere.

You’re leading.

You are out there, marching right along, never checking in with your customers to see if they are following.

As a face-to-face instructor, I can’t make this error.  They are in the room; they are looking at me, they are taking notes.  Or they are not.

As I transition to online, I have to ensure to make up for the lack of this feedback mechanism.  I have to reach out actively and check.  Analytics could also reveal where they have to rewind and repeat sections, where they bail, and other such areas of opportunity for improvement.

You’re not there.

Recently, I was reading an eBook from a potential future vendor.  There was a sentence that rung out to me as something I could help with, so I scrolled back to where the author had provided an email address.

Seconds after I hit send, I got an automated reply – a long one with detailed instructions of the what’s and how’s.  I carefully read it, but my issue didn’t fall into one of the categories.  Instead, I picked the one for potential clients, because that’s also what I was.

After enough bounces and no-reply emails, I decided that this vendor wasn’t for me, and that’s when I finally got through to a person – right after I didn’t care anymore.  It’s a pretty expensive automation system, and as a customer, I don’t want to cover those costs.  Automation should help, not hinder; it should reduce costs, not add overhead.

You’re rude.

People hated Clippy with a passion.  Clippy was a Microsoft invention posed to help you.

Only it couldn’t do any of the basic things people expect from a relationship.

A relationship?  I thought we were talking about a program.  People expect technology to be respectful, as well as you and your behavior.

You’re connected.

The best way to know if your customer experience is a rude one is to experience it as a customer.

But people don’t do that.  The CEO doesn’t call customer service when his account is locked; he calls Joe in IT.  Therefore, he has no idea what the process is actually like.

You might NOT be able to experience as a customer.  You might have the curse of knowledge that doesn’t let you go back to innocent days.  But there are lots of ways around that problem.

You’re sloppy.

Sloppy is rudeness that costs our time, precious time that you can’t save, create or take back.  Cars, software, and courses are by nature imperfect, and you’ll never find me preaching perfection.

However, there’s a certain level of quality you should aim to hold yourself to and be able to be consistent about achieving that bar.

Consistency is how you get rid of sloppiness.  Put all your resources in the worst part in a systematic fashion until you can start to work on increasing the bar.  Instead, of focused, systematic improvement, we dilute resources across departments and work on polishing pearls and creating new problems.

You bait and switch.

Do you know the recruitment joke about the choice between heaven and hell?  Hell looks like fun, so you choose it.  That’s when you realize the difference of treatment when you are being recruited and joining the team.

We seem to expect a decrease in quality between when you were wooing me as a customer and when I become one.  However, the difference can be as drastic as the difference between heaven and hell.

Some businesses spend all their time and energy drumming up business, but no energy in the business.  They made the path to the door, get the landscaping perfect, and convince people to buy.  With the transaction done, the shiny new customer turns the handle, and there’s no house on the other side.  What works in Hollywood doesn’t work in business.

Overselling will only hurt you in the end.

You’re invisible.

You’ve got the goods, you can deliver, but no one knows about you, or they can’t find you.  You’ve got to get the word out about the problems you can solve, but then be findable.

I had a media client who for sure knew this axiom – marketing was his life.  However, when I went to meet him, I had to double check the address.  What I was looking at was a house in a residential area, and from what I knew already, he had a team and an office.  Did I get his home address?  The house was on a corner lot, and as I rounded the corner, I saw a driveway full of cars.  Team, check.

The next question on my mind was where to park, as street parking was illegal, and the driveway full.  I decided to chance it.  Then, do I go for the side door, which is the employee entrance, or the front door?

I chose the front door.  Wrong choice.  When I finally got in, the potential client told me excitedly how he knew all about flow and the importance of it, and how they’d just fixed everything.  I’m sure things flow smoothly on the inside, but you might need to rethink the scope of your boundary, get some signs and help a customer out.

You’re embarrassing.

No one wants to be associated with crap.

People want to work for companies they are proud of, purchase from businesses that share their standards and values, and invest in stocks that are good for humanity.

Ok, not everyone.  Some people just want power, influence, and money (see point number one).  When I got a job at Purolator in the quality department, everyone I met had a story of how they’d been screwed over.  Every person.  I stopped telling people where I worked, and especially what I did there.  It was too embarrassing.

You lie.

Everybody lies, that’s for sure.

Sometimes it happens when you promise “cutting edge information” that turns out to be a book from two years ago.  You might think that book is cutting edge, but authors and publishers take time, while the kaleidoscope of knowledge never stopped turning.

Of course, you aren’t going to lie blatantly, but the definitions of the words you are using might be completely different in your customer’s.  “Fast” can describe everything from F1 to glacial melt.

You’re unfair.

Fairness matters to people more than money. That is, studies have shown that we are willing to give up small sums of money to punish people for being selfish.

If your terms and conditions are, of course, to protect you, think for a minute why you have that contract in the first place (and see point #1 again).  All contracts can be broken, so it’s false security, evidence of distrust and a waste of my money.  Lawyers aren’t free, contracts don’t materialize out of thin air, and the customer pays for all of that.

I bought a pair of shoes after watching a commercial for JustFab.  A couple of months later, I didn’t understand why I was still paying for them.  On the phone, I found out about the club deal, a detail that somehow went right over my head.  They didn’t wangle terms and conditions at me; they refunded the extra charges.  That’s honest and fair.

(Of course, I couldn’t help but think how much better it would be for everyone if they just made that transparent.  The lady on the phone wouldn’t have been talking to me, and I would be writing about a different experience.)

You take advantage.

When you realize you want something your customers have, you can’t just take it. You have to stay within the boundaries of the relationship you’ve established.  If you want to increase those boundaries, you need permission.

For instance, decades ago, when I was a Bell home phone customer, it would infuriate me that they would telemarket me.  Just because they had my phone number, didn’t permit them to use it as far as I was concerned.

Privacy and use of information have far more heightened awareness these days and better protection.  (And thank you Do Not Call Lists).  Don’t be creepy by demonstrating you know more than I think you should know, just because you have excellent CRM.  Do greet me by name, even if you have to have an account number first.

You’re impersonal.

Above all, business is about relationships. In any relationship, you have information about the other person and use that to be proactive.

You get them presents they might like on their birthday, etc.  I’m not telling you to do all those wonderful things you could be doing; this post is about what you are actively getting wrong.  Make it up to them by making it matter to them.

Crowne Hotels in Moncton nailed this.  One night, I woke to a guy peeing on my door.  Yup, I saw through the peephole.  I called down, only expecting that they’d do something immediately.  They did, the dude was whisked away, and housekeeping must have done some wonders.  However, the next morning, to make it up to me, they offered me an upgrade on my next stay.  This offer put me over the moon.  Other hotels in similar, well, nothing mimics that, but what they offered me was a discount on my room or other such monetary lets-make-this-right offers.  But in those situations, I was a corporate traveler, and I already knew that corporation was happy to make you, the customer, pay.  Of course, that’s not cool with me either.

Value Your Lifeline

Your customers are your lifeline in business; you can’t survive without them.  Are you acting like you know that or are you spending too much time replacing them?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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