Every business owner has been there.
A regular customer walks out the door one day and just never comes back.
No warning. No good-bye. No obvious reason.
I’m here to tell you three common reasons, even if your customer won’t.
I’m not talking about the obvious stuff here. You don’t need my help to understand that a colossal product failure, a lack of value delivered, or a lousy experience will cost you customers.
I’m talking about the subtle things. The “micro-failures” that don’t register when they happen. But one day, they all add up to the customer deciding to try someplace else.
Lack of consistency
Say what you want about McDonald’s or Starbucks. You can’t deny that they are masters at delivering a consistent experience. No matter where you are, you know exactly what to expect when you walk into one of their stores. And you get it.
Consistency is comfortable.
If your employees all have their own way of doing things, your customers never know what to expect. Sometimes, their experience will be great. Other times, just average. Sometimes, they’ll think your business really gets them. Other times, they’ll think you are frustratingly difficult to deal with.
That hot-and-cold reaction leads to uncertainty. Uncertainty leads to a lack of confidence in the outcome. Lack of confidence in the outcome leads to looking for someplace else to go.
How to fix it
Steal a page from McDonald’s and Starbucks’ playbook.
Create your own playbook.
Create, test, and enforce standard operating procedures. Do this for as much of the business as you can. These procedures ensure that everyone delivers the same experience every time.
I know what you’re thinking.
“Standard operating procedures sounds so bureaucratic and limiting.”
In one sense, they are limiting. They limit the things all your employees do in common situations to the actions that work best.
Do you know what that does?
It frees them up to engage with the customer. When they don’t need to worry about how to get something done, they can use that mental energy to connect with customers.
Speaking of making connections with customers, that brings us to…
Lack of relationships
A wise friend of mine once said, “people do business with people they like.”
No matter your business, there are plenty of competitors that can deliver service of equal quality at an equal price.
What can’t they match?
Your people and the relationships they have with your customers.
Compare these two scenes.
A customer walks up to the counter. She orders from the same person she sees every day at 3pm when she drops in for her afternoon coffee.
Cashier (barely looking up from cash register), “What can I get you?”
“That will be $3.00. Thank you. Have a nice day.”
Now picture this exchange instead.
“Hi Jane. I got your usual double espresso started for you. How did that big meeting go this morning?”
Which version of that conversation do you think made the customer feel more connected to your business?
Customers are people, not walking, talking credit cards. They want to be recognized and appreciated. When they aren’t, the best case scenario is that they think of you only as a transaction. At worst, they think of you as someone who really doesn’t care about them.
So why should they care about you?
How to fix it
First, lead by example. You set the tone, so make sure that you are the first to chat up your customers and get to know them as people.
That welcoming, curious approach you take toward your customers needs to extend to your employees, too. If you don’t make your employees feel connected to your business, you can’t expect them to do that for your customers.
Second, hire better. Some people are just much better at connecting than others. You need to make sure you are looking for those personality traits along with any other relevant qualifications.
A warning. Do not try to fake this. The only way this works is if it’s genuine. Anything less will blow up in your face in spectacular fashion.
Lack of growth
If you don’t change with the times, you’ll be left behind.
Your customers’ needs and tastes will evolve over time. If you don’t evolve along with them, you will be the place they outgrew. If that happens, it won’t matter what else you do right. You won’t be what they need today.
You’ll be like that friend from high school who, years later, is still living senior year. They may like you, but they don’t have anything in common with you anymore.
But what about all that consistency I was just talking about?
The McDonalds or Starbucks store of today is noticeably different than the store of a few years ago. Delivering a consistent experience over time does not mean that it never changes.
The important parts don’t change. The important parts are how your customers feel doing business with you and what your business does for them.
The specifics must evolve with the customer and the times.
How to fix it
The biggest hint this is an issue for your business is when you notice customers are asking for things you don’t do (or haven’t yet done).
When you start hearing those requests, you should be asking yourself what that says about changes in the market. Then you need to figure out how (or if) you need to make changes in your business.
This is where having those relationships I talked about is helpful. Customers who feel connected to you are a lot more likely to ask about what you can do. They want to do business with you. The customers who aren’t connected will just look elsewhere for what they need.
Putting this information to work
Have a sneaking suspicion that one or more of these problems is lurking in your business?
Get an outside opinion. You are probably too close to it to see.
Have a trusted friend or advisor be a customer for a while. Then get them to tell you – honestly – about their experience.
Not sure where to start fixing things? A coach can help you with that.