How You Might Be Losing Clients Without Even Knowing It

How You Might Be Losing Clients and Not Even Know ItMost customer experiences you’ll have are fairly average. Not great, not horrible, just somewhere in the middle. Very often, that average experience occurs because the grand majority of people in customer service positions don’t have the training they need to give you exemplary service every time.

Excellent customer service isn’t something we’re all born with. It’s learned. Yes, you’ll meet people who really stand out and make you feel great for having done business with them, but you’ll meet a lot more that just do their job and get by.

You’ll also meet people that suck.

These people might do their job, but they’ll totally wreck your customer experience, destroying every shred of trust, confidence and pleasant feelings you might have held in their regard. These guys are the ones that yell at you when you don’t get it. These are the ones that treat you like – let’s face it – crap.

You’re just another number. You’re not important. You’re an idiot, a pain in the ass and a problem client they wish would go away. Plus, they have the nerve to still send you a bill.

Oh yeah. There are a lot of people like this out there, people who have no business dealing with the public and being some company’s front man representative. They may be total rock stars at what they do, but they fail big time at customer service.

Completely, utterly, totally.

The worst part of people who suck is that they very rarely believe they do suck. They don’t think they do a bad job. They just think they’re smarter than you, out of your league, full of ego and pride and self-importance. They’re in a position of power and holding the cards of control.

Very often, they also believe they have a right to treat you badly.

After all, you’re a pain in the ass.

Are You One of the Ones that Suck?

You’re probably shaking your head thinking, “I’m glad I’m not that person. That isn’t me. I’m nice to my clients. No one says bad things about me. In fact, all my clients say they’re happy with my work!”

That’s what they tell you. What are they telling other people?
You see, the thing is that people won’t tell you that you suck. We simmer and glower. But we won’t come right up to your face and take a stand.

It takes guts to say, “Hey, this is wrong!” Sticking up for yourself requires courage. You need to be prepared for conflict, for arguments, and even more, you need to be ready to defend yourself, sometimes for a long period.

Most of us don’t really feel comfortable with that. We don’t like conflict. We might end up in a real mess, a huge fight. We might feel unable to back up our opinions, or we sense there’s no point, that nothing will come of sticking our neck out. No one’s going to listen or care anyways.

Very often, we feel the other person is stronger. He’s in control. He’s in the position of power. He’s holding all the cards, and we feel helpless to change the situation.

And if we complain, we might end up facing worse consequences than we already are.

So we say nothing and do nothing. We mutter and feel bitter. We might bitch to our friends or family, but we already know these people are safe. They’ll listen, they’ll support us. They’ll probably agree, too.

“That’s awful!” they’ll exclaim. “You should tell him to…”

But we don’t tell him.

We’ll Tell Everyone Else, Though…

And here comes the consequences of sucking: bad news travels fast.

People loooove bad news and dramatic events. The town talks about the couple who had a fight, the local newspapers talk about a bad car accident, Twitter talks about the latest scrap between bloggers who disagree, and the televisions talk about the horrible eye-witness reports of plane crashes and pandemics.

Yeah. We love drama. We soak it up like a sponge. That drama-love is hardwired in us, right in the core of our brain where our amygdala sits waiting for the rush of a fight or flight reaction. We’re bad news junkies, firing ourselves up and getting excited over the worst news possible.

A bad customer experience? Hey, we’re all over it.

“You’re kidding me! He did that?! You should…”

We should, but we don’t. We certainly tell our story, though, every last dirty detail, to anyone who’ll listen. It makes us feel better. We get people on our side, we fire them up to and we feel superior. We have power again. Status. We are strong.

And it’s vengeance.

As we’re sitting there telling other people about the crappy service we just received, we’re firing ourselves up more. We’re mad. We’re feeling back in control. And we’re dragging Mr. Bigshot through the mud like we want him to eat it.

It’s our way of saying, “Treat me badly? Yeah? Take that, motherf***er.”

A Bad Rap Costs You Big Time

If you’re that big shot who smacked someone down with poor customer service, you’re in trouble.

The news of just one negative experience can travel to thousands of people within minutes these days. We have all sorts of tools at our disposal to spread the stories, the gossip, the rumors – and not just within our circle of friends or peer group.

Internationally. Worldwide. Around the whole globe.

Think about that a minute. You screw up with one customer – without even realizing you did, or maybe even with full knowledge that you’re pissing that person off – and suddenly someone halfway around the world in Australia knows everything about you.

Your service sucks.

Your business sucks.

You suck.

That person you dissed? He’ll never do business with you again. Ever.
Ever. Big deal, right? Good riddance? He was a pain in the ass anyways, right?

No. You lost the client that you had, and you lost every client that could’ve been – all because these people heard you sucked. Within 24 hours, you’ve lost tens, hundreds, even possibly thousands of customers you could’ve had.

Well, you could’ve had them if you’d been a nice and patient guy.

The moral of the story? No matter who you deal with in a day, don’t suck. Because your reputation – and your business success – is riding on it.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. As a nurse, customer service and satisfaction are a part of every aspect of our care. From the time the patient hits the door til the time he hopefully leaves heading home. It’s viewed with higher scrutiny than actual patient care…which I guess could go hand in hand.

    It is important. I’ve had crappy experiences with “those” people you’re referencing in this article. And it doesn’t feel good. Hopefully those who’ve never given this type service will continue being the bright shining stars they’ve always been….and the ones who haven’t been so exemplary can learn something…
    .-= Roschelle´s last blog ..Tools to Check Google Page Rank =-.

  2. I’ve always heard it said, for the one client who makes a complaint, there are 10 more who feel the same way, but didn’t say anything. You’re right, most people don’t want to create waves or have a confrontation.

    There’s another saying I heard, mainly in retail market, “The customer is always right.” Whether they are or not, is besides the point. It’s our job to make them feel right before they leave or before the job is complete. The goal is for them to refer people to us, not drive them away.

    Great post. One we all need to be reminded of.
    .-= Heather Villa´s last blog ..Weekend Reading: My fav’s from this week: 11/13/09 =-.

  3. Fantastic post. I always like telling folks, everyone has failed MindReading 101…so even if you think you understand your clients’ take, there’s a good chance SOMETHING was miscommunicated.

    To reduce that, I’ll generally say, “let me repeat back what it is I think you said, and you can tell me if I got it.” Two of three iterations of that generally always help in clearing the air.

    Here’s a great customer tip to help GET wonderful retail customer service – always notice the name tag of the individual who is serving you, and then address/thank them by name. I’ve noticed that hardly anyone does that…and it does seem to energize the atmosphere in a very positive way.

    I learned that tip back in 2000 and it has yet to fail me. 🙂
    .-= Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog ..The Great Eyeglasses SCAM – Simple Ways to AVOID Being Ripped Off =-.

  4. And always remember that anything put online will (a) stay there forever for someone to find and (b) spread faster than you can hit the delete key!

    In these days of Facebook, Twitter, Myspace etc, people who have a bad experience with you will put it out there – and then it spreads virally. It’s word of mouth on supercharged steroids. And it’s always there to be found by someone doing a search on your company.

    And since I’m that person halfway around the world in Australia, I have to say that in my experience James’ customer service doesn’t suck at all. 😉
    .-= Melinda | WAHM Biz Builder´s last blog ..So What Do I Do With My Newsletter/Autoresponder Now? =-.

  5. In the age of social marketing, I think more than ever, customer service is becoming increasingly important. One bad experience with a customer and the reality is that it could lose you a lot of customers or even it become news. On another note though, I’d rather someone speak to me if they felt they were treated unfairly first rather than be forced to defend a one sided story that was spread virally. Luckily, with social media, blogs and so forth, we also have the right of return to defend our online reputation.
    .-= Samantha´s last blog ..Business Bookkeeping =-.

  6. ‘Don’t Suck!! – I love it! Who needs business courses? Seriously, you make some good points here, James. I think it’s important to remember that a lot more people are making their views known online, so a bad rep could follow you all around the world.
    .-= Sharon Hurley Hall´s last blog ..Is Your Writing Like Powdered Milk? =-.

  7. @ Samantha – I’m like you – I’d much rather people speak openly, straightforwardly and tell me what’s wrong before it becomes a problem. Unfortunately, people don’t work that way, and I think only about 2% of the population has enough inner strength to be that honest and proactive.

    @Melinda – Two years ago, I was flamed by WAHMs. Big time. And two weeks ago, someone I had never met before said, “Oh! You’re the guy who… I read about that on some forum!”

    Two years. And the words of the story are all laid out for everyone to see, forever.

    (The good part? “You were so polite and diplomatic!” Hee hee, win!)

    @ Barbara – Ahh, good tip (and this’ll be fun if everyone adds their personal tips, yay! I’ll collect and post them.) I do that one as well:

    “My understanding is… could you clarify that for me?” can be a real winner, because it opens the door to the person to say, “You’re not wrong. You may not be right, but you’re not wrong, I may have misunderstood, and point me on the right road. They don’t feel attacked or like they screwed up – they think you’re a bit of a charming idiot and got it all wrong.

    Even if you didn’t 😉

    On the name thing? Names are powerful and can be very influential. For example, using a person’s name twice in any conversation increases the chance they’ll remember you positively.

    @Heather – I scoured the damned net looking for information of that 1-10 ratio!! I couldn’t find it!! It’s very true though. I might be dating myself, but remember that commmercial? “And they’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on…”

    (If you don’t remember it, don’t tell me.)

    And the “customer is always right”? YES. That has nothing at all as to whether the customer is *actually* correct or not, and everything to do with whether the customer has a right to be upset. 150% of the time, YES.

    @ Roschelle – I think you and I go to different hospitals…


  8. @ Sharon – Not only making their views known, but strongly, loudly and … yeah. The Internet lets people be real damned nasty when they aren’t happy. Watch out for it!

  9. In my work and in my previous business of Professional Organizing there are always people who walk into the “store” with a disbelieving attitude (“This isn’t going to help, I don’t know why I’m here”). After a couple of bad experiences with organizing clients I learned how to recognize the signs before any money changes hands.

    I now do a better job qualifying leads so that people who do choose to buy from me aren’t looking for a reason to complain, which means my already excellent customer service level connects with their disposed to be happy attitude.

    It can be scary to say no to business, but I’d rather have someone who appreciates me steering them away from “wasting money” than a (former) client who complains to everyone they meet.
    .-= Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome´s last blog ..A State of Self-Awareness: What Goals Do Your Actions Serve? =-.

  10. James,

    Back in my early customer service days the saying was 100 who don’t speak up for every 1 who does… hm. I want statistics now.

    I’m bold in a lot of ways. There are many folks I’ll tell if something’s wrong. But usually:

    —I’ll wait until the second or third screwup—in case it was just a boo-boo, not a way of working
    —I’ll only bother if I think it’s a company or a management situation where they may fix the problem, and if I have the time that day to offer my observations—no sense boldly whistling in the wind
    —In that power struggle? Ego, superiority, etc.? You’re darn right. Let ’em find out the hard way. I’m not ever going to extend a hand to someone who’s already talking down to me.

    So the truth is even when I will stop to mention a problem after 2 or 3 strikes, the problem’s probably already been passed on to many other customers before they hear about it from me. Meaning that I’m a few of the 10 or 100 all by myself, and who knows how many other unhappy folks have gone off to talk to others about the ratty treatment they had?

    When everyone knows what it’s like to be treated this way (and hates it), and no one ever says “oh, yes, this is how I do customer service,” I wonder who is doing all this icky stuff?

    Sorry ’bout your rotten experience. You sure made a killer post out of it!


    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..Who Else Plans Well at the Start? =-.

  11. Services like Twitter make it so much easier to spread bad news about your brand around the globe. Which makes it all the more important for companies and brands to be using those tools to do damage control and turn an unhappy customer into a satisfied customer. Paying attention to what is being said out in the world and participating through these public channels is critical to any company today.
    .-= James NomadRip´s last blog ..Book Review: Reclaim Your Dreams =-.

  12. I’ve been thinking about this subject quite a bit over the last few weeks.

    About a month ago, I left my job at a web development company where it was standard practice to take on more work than we could handle and prioritize our workflow based on which client complained the loudest about a missed deadline. Talking to several clients and vendors after I left, they freely expressed their frustrations but said they we’re reluctant to take their business elsewhere because of the new set-up costs and because they’re wary of being screwed over by someone else.

    I know that the owners of the company have no clue that so many of their clients are dissatisfied as they assume the client’s relief at a project finally being finished is the same as the client being happy with their service. Just because you have long-standing clients who are cordial in their communications with you, does not mean that they are saying the same to their friends and associates.

    To quote Harry Beckwith: “Assume your service sucks and make it better.”

  13. James,

    Crazy that you wrote this because was just writing a very similar post for Copyblogger – so much for that!

    Anyway, you said it better than I could.

    Some of these consultants/freelancers amaze me. There is one in particular that I really wanted to use because everyone else was, but the customer service was terrible. I felt like I was a hassle to them…so I paid someone else.
    .-= Nathan Hangen´s last blog ..5 Pillars of an Effective Blog =-.

  14. If you hear a criticism from one client chances are lots of others are thinking the same thing….
    .-= Business Logos´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

  15. Matthew—Oh my goodness, I *love* that Beckwith quotation. Off to tattoo that on several clients’ foreheads right now. Thanks for that!

    Until later,

    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..Who Else Plans Well at the Start? =-.

  16. Kelly – It’s one of my favorites too. Unfortunately,upon picking up his book, Selling the Invisible, again, I realized that I’ve been misquoting Beckwith for several years. His actual quotes are:

    “Too often, service sucks.”

    “Assume your service is bad. It can’t hurt, and it will force you to improve.”

    “First, before you write an ad, rent a list, dash off a press release – fix your service.”

    Apparently my brain took pieces from each and distilled it into the little gem above. All apologies to Mr. Beckwith.

    I think I’m going to stick with the new one, however… It’s grown into a personal mantra of mine.

  17. I always say customer service is as important, if not more, than my development services. I always aim to get my work finished before deadline, to be available normal business hours via multiple ways of contact; so that every client can get ahold of me in whatever way they’re most comfortable.

  18. Interestingly fortuitous timing with this article since I am ‘dealing with’ completely abysmal customer service from my publishers in the USA. Thus far the subcontractor-printers in Australia seem unable to produce a 300 page book that has LEGIBLE print in ANY of the headers or the first 4 lines of each page. And they were supposed to be getting my NEXT book uploaded to them this week.

    I have sent note after note with no answers for 6 days and they fobbed me off with another proof copy of the book — but it too had the SAME printing flaws. So I am supposed to be happy about that?

    Ah — but then I quoted your article to them today and suddenly there is a FLURRY of activity. In addition to the cut and paste of pertinent segments of this article (and a link to it), I made it clear that I would go onto all 3 of my websites AND onto Twitter and Facebook and share just WHO it is that all potential authors should avoid.

    Thanks for the excellent article!

    Deborah — who actually DOES live in Australia

  19. @ Deborah – Well, I’m darned flattered that mention of my article gets some results – and I’m also darned glad to have been of service!

    @ Amber – I’ve worked with plenty of people who weren’t the best – but who were the best at customer service. When you have that on your side, you’re rockin.

    Which reminds me… Today, the lady at the Tim Horton’s drive through did such a good job that when I got to the checkout window, I made the girl go get that lady so that I could tell her personally what great service she’d given me. She was stunned.

    “But… but why?”

    So I told her exactly why I thought she’d done a great job, very exactly, so she’d know where she’d hit the ringer. Then I handed her $5 and said it wasn’t much, but she deserved a little reward.

    She was thrilled – and very, very proud of herself.

    (Okay, so that was slightly off topic but I wanted to tell the world. So there.)

    And I’ll be back with more replies by morning!

  20. Good evening again!

    I’ll actually keep you posted on whether the ‘flurry’ at the publisher’s office produces tangible results. I am HOPEful that they will do the right thing.

    Also, another thanks to you, James. The article quite effectively spelled out the current realities of doing business in a global market, the perils of letting your customers down, and then coping with the flak of such instantly available feedback worldwide.

    Your site has an excellent reputation in the writing world and it was splendid to be able to quote from it.

  21. @ James – Unfortunately that is true. A lot of people would rather have complain about a bad customer service experience than approach a manager or a decision maker to try and fix the problem.
    .-= Samantha´s last blog ..Business Bookkeeping =-.

  22. I believe this happens more often than most business owners realize because it’s hard to read the label when you’re inside the bottle. Sometimes it takes an outside person to tell the business owner the truth about their customer service. And since buying decisions are never made in isolation, it’s also a good idea to shop the competition regularly to get a feel for their service levels. This will give you a good idea where you rank in the mind of the customer.

  23. Customer service is important since it brings returning business, regardless if you are a multinational company or a freelance professional. A good customer service can give you recommendations from your clients/customers who had a good experience with your service or brand.

  24. I don’t have much to add that hasn’t already been said, but I like to offer kudos for a good post without leaving a dumb “good post” comment.

    I don’t think freelancers work on customer service as much as they should. No one wants to give discounts or take the time to receive feedback but it’s important for achieving any level of success. The way I see it is everything is a learning experience. If you see to your clients’ needs, consider all feedback (positive and negative) and work hard to make sure your customers receive the absolute best experience possible, you can soar. Customer service isn’t necessarily being the best person for the job, it’s making your client feel that way.

  25. @Deb – Recently, I’ve had to deal with a few freelancers for various things – and every single one of them rocked one thing out… enough to have me contact them… and then SUCKED at being professional. Every single one. It was one of those, ‘Do you people not get it yet?!’ Frustrating.

    @ Tom – Very, very true about that being in a bottle. We try to see what everyone else sees, but it’s very hard to do that because we’re too close. Each time I have a customer service experience, I try to compare it to our business and how we do things here. Do we measure up? Better? Different? How? What could we improve?

    There’s *always* something we could do better, even if it’s just one tiny thing.
    .-= James Chartrand – Men with Pens´s last blog ..Are You Afraid of Success? We Bet Yes. =-.

  26. @ James – good for you for giving credit where credit is due. I must admit that I’m one of those annoying people who do give website feedback and complain to managers if I’m not happy but at the same time, I will also give good written feedback as well. I think before you complain about something, you need to speak to a manager and take it further. If you’re still unhappy, rant about it on a public forum if you must but you should give people the right of response before blacklisting them on a forum.

  27. Kudos! This is why I tell companies that I am their customer. I don’t care what they sell or if I’ll even buy from them, for even if I don’t, I probably know someone who will buy. And if I think they suck, well, there goes that potential sale to my friend or that Twitter follower around the world.
    .-= Ari Herzog´s last blog ..365 Top Blogs You Should Read Today =-.

  28. customers/clients are the life blood of every business. so making them happy will always going to help your business. but I think there are some cases where you have to let clients go for your own good.


  1. […] but it might seem as though I’d paid him to write it, so have a look at the excellent post How You Might Be Losing Clients Without Even Knowing It, and don’t miss the comment section if you’d like to find out everything Tom had to […]

  2. […] How You Might Be Losing Clients Without Even Knowing It […]

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