Instantly Losing a Customer

A while ago, I wrote a post about great customer service, where it’s coming from and where to find more of it. Today, I’d like to take a look in the other direction and talk about the biggest mistake a business can make: losing a customer.

I’ve used 1-800-flowers.com for several orders over the past few years. Although the majority of the orders were unfulfilled or late, I sympathized with the company’s position. They’re stuck as the liaison between me, the over expecting customer, and any number of questionable florists. Every time there was an error, I was able to get my money back, although I often had to fight for it. I would never expect them to get every order right, but as you’ve probably experienced, it’s so easy to win back a customer whose had a bad experience with stellar customer service. 1-800-flowers.com certainly left something to be desired.

I wasn’t planning on using them again. I’m single now, so I have no immediate floral emergencies. But today, I’m vowing to never again use their service, no matter how long I’m in the dog house. Today, marks the decisive end of my business with 1-800-flowers.com. Today, they crossed the line between business and consumer that I once thought was far less demarcated. Today, I received this in the mail:

Scam Letter

At first, I thought, interesting, perhaps they caught an error in the last transaction I had with them and were sending me, much to my surprise and satisfaction, a check to correct the error. I opened it, still skeptical that it was likely a scam, yet was lured even further into believing they were in fact sending me cash. For all intents and purposes it looked exactly like a real check. And it was. Except that when you deposit this check you’re actually purchasing a membership. To make matters worse, it’s a membership in a 1-800-flowers.com affiliate.

Fine Print

I was appalled. I don’t expect stellar customer service from every company, but this absolutely crosses an ethical boundary. My mother often calls me to ask how she can claim her prize for being the 1,000,000 visitor to a website. If she had received this piece of mail, she would have cashed that check. There’s no way she would have caught the fine print, or would have even been able to read it.

The poor service and lack of customer care I can tolerate - maybe even expect - but this is the first customer interaction I’ve ever witnessed that proactively lost a customer.

Often the line is not so clear. Take, for instance, the placement of ads on a website. Most consumers have come to tolerate a moderate amount of advertising in their lives. Ads often do pay for the subsistence of many sites on the web. But it’s crucial to constantly ask: does what I’m doing make the life of my customer better. Forget about how much you can get away with. Certainly dismiss any idea that could possibly drive a customer away!

It’s a honor that your existing customers even work with you! Appreciate their contribution to your business and rather than kill the golden goose, focus on getting the next one.

Thanks for reading! I'm Avand.

I’ve been building and designing products for a decade. Today, I’m the Director of Product at Mystery Science working alongside a small team of educators and scientests to revolutionize how kids learn science. I was born Boston, grew up in Salt Lake City, spent several years in Chicago, and now call San Francisco my home. When I’m not at my computer, I like to ride bikes and make photographs personally and professionally.

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