Five ways to kill customer loyalty: are you guilty?


Guest blog from Maria Ross, founder and chief strategist of Red Slice, a branding and marketing consultancy based in Seattle. She has advised start-ups, solopreneurs, non-profits and small to midsize growth companies on how to craft their brand story to engage, inform and delight customers. Maria is a speaker and the author of Branding Basics for Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget (2010, Norlights Press).

Mon Dieu! I’ve heard from many UK friends recently that in-store customer service in the UK is notoriously bad. I have to admit I experienced some of this while in the UK recently. Nothing offensive, but just some very unfriendly or unhelpful assistants. I was actually quite shocked.

Although…..recently I did get to witness how a careless small business turned a raving fan into a staunch enemy right over dinner. Good service is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to differentiate yourself in a crowded market.  If there is any truth to these opinions, then here are five little traps to avoid if you want to keep your loyal customers as raving fans.

My husband used to live in Oxford and has dreams about Aziz, a local curry house. His Quixotic quest to find a great curry house here in the States has resulted in exactly one place, in NYC. We live in Seattle, so this causes some problems. There are many good curry places here, but in his opinion, they over-salt and the flavours don't blend quite the way they do in UK restaurants.

So when recently visiting Oxford, we revisited Aziz with a group of friends local to Aziz. This place boasts many awards for its food, but among our circle, the poor service is widely known and even joked about. The food is very good, though, so they muddle through things for the odd visit. However, after this trip, the restaurant lost icon status in my husband's eyes - and our local friends decided there were other great curry houses around so this was the last straw.

 Why?  Here are five ways this business killed brand loyalty. Are you unwittingly guilty of any of these through your own actions - or non-actions?

  1. Disrespect - Making us wait...and wait...and wait: We waited almost 20 minutes as waiters whizzed by our table, before anyone came. And even then, he only would take bar drink orders. We then waited longer for someone to take our order, for the food to come, for refills and even the bill. What this says is, "You and your time are not valuable to us. We don't need you."
  2. Inflexibility - Letting process dictate customer satisfaction: We were dying for some water by the time the guy came around to take our cocktail orders. When asked, he gruffly said no, he could not bring us water. Another person would be around for that. And that person didn't come until 10 minutes after that.
  3. Anti-ease of Use - Making it hard to pay: We had to ask for the bill three times - once to a manager/owner - before someone finally brought it to us. Did they not want our money?
  4. Disrespect, pt II - Surly service: No human interaction, no eye contact, no "you're welcome" to our "thank you's." We were made to feel like we were a bother to something more important they could be doing.
  5. Putting product above experience - A bad experience trumps quality in the long run: Notice, I have not once talked about how delicious the food was, once it got to us. The experience was so bad that it overshadowed the food. No customer should ever be forced to apologise to his friends, as my husband did, for recommending a place with great food. But that's exactly what happened. He vowed never to go back again.

Bad service can show up in all the things that you DON'T do for customers, just as much as doing something wrong.  Small businesses with a good quality product can easily value customers, empower employees to make customers happy or create a wonderful experience without adding any extra costs to their bottom line. 

What do you think about general customer service levels in the UK? What one simple thing can you put in place today to ensure your customers feel appreciated, adored and important? Please share in the Comments below.

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