3 Ways to (Unknowingly) Annoy Your Customers

Some pet peeves vary by individual, but others are universal. This is especially true when it comes to customer service and other business interactions.

Think about the number of people you know, yourself included, who look forward to calling their cable company or cellular service provider. If the experience was good, or at least not a huge time-suck, you're thrilled! Otherwise, you're dreading every minute you're stuck on the phone.

Looking at what not to do can help you create policies, procedures and experiences that make your customers happy and loyal — and less likely to rant on social media. Here are three common but easy business practices to avoid.

1. Have inflexible company policies

The quickest way to irritate your customers is to quote company policy to them. In fact, within seconds, they will be asking not-very-politely to talk to a manager.

Most customers understand there are things a business can and can't do to accommodate them, so always try to frame your responses that way. As a customer, we think the company that made the policy can break the rules, too.

For example, hotel checkout time is noon. A customer has a late afternoon flight and would love to have a late checkout. The desk clerk could just tell the customer that checkout is at noon because that's the policy. A better response would be to make the customer feel like a VIP. The desk clerk can say that the hotel always tries to help a customer whenever possible, and they would be happy to extend check-out until 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. The customer will leave feeling happy, well cared for and possibly even write a nice review on TripAdvisor or some other site.

The key to making this work is to empower staff. They should know the rules but also use common sense and a customer-friendly approach to make exceptions to those rules. If it isn't an undue burden on the business, always err on the side of helping the customer.

Better yet, empower the staff to do whatever it takes. Gibson's Steakhouse in Chicago, one of the highest-grossing restaurants in the United States, does just that. The staff are so concerned about your happiness that if you want something that's not on the menu, they'll make it or order it from somewhere else for you. That's what has kept them as a top-grossing restaurant for well over a decade.

2. Employ indifferent support staff

We just talked about the power of an empowered staff. On the flip side, how do you feel when you walk into an establishment and you're ignored? You see employees chatting with each other, looking at their phones or, worse, complaining to each other.

Customers want to feel the love — or at least not feel invisible.

  1. Example 1: It's easy to sympathize with boutique owners who get a lot of people walk-ing through and looking. The staff can get a little crabby wondering if anyone is ever going to buy something. However, people want to be greeted cheerfully, or at least be acknowledged, and this can lead to browsers becoming buyers. When you get into a conversation with the owner or learn more about the community, it's amazing how certain items become must-haves.
  2. Example 2: If we can excuse the above situation, it's harder to understand distracted fast-food cashiers who can't seem to take your order. Typically, you will walk into that kind of establishment when you are hungry and in a hurry. Complicated ordering processes or lack of knowledge about ingredients encourages people to walk out and likely not return.

Teach your staff that regardless of their job title, their number-one job description is to make customers happy.

3. Hide critical information

As a business owner, you should have a good idea what information people will want to find easily when they go to your website. Don't be cute or artistic; it may frustrate would-be customers.

  1. Example 1: Have you ever tried to find the phone number for customer service, only to see that it's buried four clicks deep? Or have you gone to a restaurant's website and not been able to find the days they're open or their hours of operation? Don't bury your critical information.
  2. Example 2: One of my clients had a tech issue and tried to reach a support person. The support person returned the call and left a voicemail but talked fast and had an unusual last name. They also left the main switchboard number as the callback number. When my client called back, there was an automated system that required him to enter the spelling of the last name, which he had never seen and which could be spelled several different ways. This led to 10 minutes of frustration with no way to get to an operator or live person. Sometimes, technology makes things more complicated.

I think it's always a good idea to try to look at your business processes from your customer's point of view. If you are too close to it, ask a colleague or friend to try to buy something from you. Secret shoppers exist for a reason — they uncover customer service and other process problems.

The best thing you can do is make buying an easy and pleasant experience for your customers and would-be customers. It can only benefit your business.