Image of a young male cafe owner in an empty cafe.

Small Biz Basics: Customer Service Essentials, II

Ignoring Customer Experience — Shortcut to Failure: Why Business Owners Risk Losing Loyalty, Revenue, and Reputation When They Put Off Focus on Service.
October 13, 2023

Read Part I

Andrés sighs deeply, feeling the weight of the day settle on his shoulders. It’s late, and he’s just about to close up his cozy little café. His assistants, Miggie and Maritza, had left minutes ago, tired from an unexpectedly busy evening shift. For a while now, he’s noticed that Miggie’s mood has been a bit off. “I’ve gotta talk to him,” he tells himself, making a mental note for tomorrow.

Just as Andrés is double-checking the food orders for the next day, his phone buzzes insistently. It’s a text from his wife, urging him to check the restaurant’s social media account. He pulls up Facebook and his heart sinks. A displeased customer has posted about the subpar service she experienced earlier in the day, and to make matters worse, others are piling on with their own less-than-stellar experiences.

Andrés realizes he’s got a long night ahead of him. Not only does he have to figure out how to address these customer complaints, hopefully without emptying his wallet on freebies, but now he also faces the overdue conversation with Miggie. As he reads the thread of disappointed comments, Andrés can’t help but think how he could have seen this coming—if only he had the right measures in place.

Being out of touch with customer service metrics can be forgivable once, maybe twice. But make it a habit, and you’re basically rolling out the red carpet for your customers to stroll straight into the arms of your competitors—or even worse, to the oh-so-convenient world of online shopping. In an age where you can get pretty much anything delivered to your doorstep with a swipe and a tap, why would anyone choose to endure crappy service at a physical store?

Businesses Can’t Afford to Ignore Customer Experience

Dimension Data observes, in its “2020 Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report,” that “customers increasingly have access to ratings, reviews and social media posts that influence and inform their buying decisions, often in real time. Organizations that don’t track or understand customer sentiment and feedback will be unable to adjust and, ultimately, compete for customer attention and loyalty.”

Results reveal an uncomfortable truth: that while organizations may pay lip service to the value of customer experience (CX) — a healthy 81.6% of organizations agree that CX offers a competitive edge and 58.0% say it’s their primary differentiator — it forms a crucial part of organizational strategy for just 14.4%, and only 26.2% say the value of CX is fully defined and tracked.

Look, studies don’t lie. Time and again, they’ve shown that customer experience isn’t just some fluffy concept; it’s a hardcore factor that impacts your bottom line. If you think you can afford to ignore how people feel when they walk out of your store, think again. Customer loyalty isn’t just built on great products or low prices; it’s the intangibles like a welcoming atmosphere, prompt service, and problem-solving skills that really make the difference. Neglect those, and you’re basically sending your customers an engraved invitation to “Find Better Service Online.”

Poor customer experiences are threatening customer loyalty, with nearly one-third of consumers opting to take their business elsewhere after a dissatisfactory interaction last year. New research from Genesys, a leader in customer experience management, also reveals that the number one challenge for organizations is keeping up with rising consumer expectations — putting their bottom line at risk as they struggle to deliver relationship-building experiences.

Expectations about what makes a great customer experience (CX) are rising faster than most organizations can keep up with — and consumers aren’t afraid to walk away when their needs aren’t met.

The majority of consumers (86%) believe a company is only as good as its service — a staggering 16-percentage points increase from 2021. But only 13% of businesses have the tools and technology in place to deliver the experiences people want today.

Less than half (43%) of consumers have felt highly valued after a contact, while a quarter of consumers have lost their temper; some (12%) had experiences so bad that they were driven to tears.

These bad experiences are worse than frustrating — they’re loyalty killers: 77% of consumers will switch brands after five or fewer negative interactions with a brand’s customer service.

“Consumers today have little tolerance for fragmented, inefficient and transactional interactions, which they’re demonstrating by leaving for the competition,” said Barbara Holzapfel, Chief Marketing Officer at Genesys. 

The Value of the Vocal Detractor

As much as Andrés is groaning about the social media heat his taqueria is taking, he’s actually kinda lucky. Yeah, you heard me right—lucky. The thing is, those disgruntled customers just gave him the heads-up, however painful, that something’s wrong. Now he’s got a golden opportunity to patch things up and show these folks that his place is worth another shot. Plus, it’s all happening out in the open, which means he can make amends publicly, showing potential new customers that he gives a damn and can own up to mistakes.

Now, on to how customers usually raise hell when they’re not satisfied:

  • Negative Reviews: Straight to Yelp or Facebook they go, typing out their frustration for all to see. It’s a double-edged sword: while bad for business, it’s a loud and clear signal that you need to make changes, and pronto.
  • Confrontation: This is the “Let me talk to your manager” crowd. They’re willing to tell you to your face that they’re not happy, giving you a chance to turn things around right then and there.
  • Emotional Outburst: Ah, the “Karen Effect.” Whether it’s a bit of grumbling or a full-on, aisle-blocking tantrum, these customers are not to be ignored—even if they’re blowing things way outta proportion.
  • Formal Complaint: The pen-pushers. These are the folks who’ll take it to the top, emailing or phoning HQ. If you get one of these, you’d better pay attention; it probably means this isn’t a one-off issue.

Walking Out Without a Word

You ever hear the saying, “The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference?” Well, the same goes for customer service. Believe it or not, the customers who kick up the least fuss can be the most dangerous to your bottom line. They might be newbies without any loyalty yet, or maybe they’ve complained before and got zip in return. Hell, maybe they just couldn’t get a hold of anyone who could actually solve the problem. When this happens, these customers go all covert ops on you with their dissatisfaction:

  • Exit Strategy: They’ll ditch you mid-transaction, like a bad date. Just poof! They’re gone, and you don’t even know why.
  • Silent Judgement: These are the ones who say nada but swear on their grandma’s grave they’ll never set foot in your joint again.
  • Word of Mouth: Oh, they’ll talk alright, but it’ll be behind your back to friends and family, spreading the word that your business is a no-go.
  • Boycott: These guys don’t just leave; they make it their mission to steer clear of you. If they’re persuasive, they’ll bring their friends along for the boycott ride.
  • Loyalty Shift: This is the final nail in the coffin. They’ve found someone else, and they’re telling everyone how much better their new fling is compared to you.

It’s like the five stages of customer service grief or something. And don’t be surprised if they wade through a few of these stages before settling on how to permanently dump you.

A study by Zippia, “30 Crucial Customer Service Statistics To Pay Attention To [2023]: How Businesses Succeed” found that:

  • Customers will tell an average of 9 people about a positive customer service experience.
  • Customers will tell an average of 16 people about a negative customer service experience.
  • Only about 4% of dissatisfied customers will actually share their complaints with the business.

So many businesses focus on the what — better sales, happier customers — without diving deep into the how and why. Pinpointing the types of interactions that customers find off-putting can offer valuable insights, not just for management but also for the frontline staff who may not even realize they’re part of the problem.

Bad service usually strikes a chord emotionally. Maybe it’s the dismissive tone of a sales rep, the lack of interest shown during a product inquiry, or the painfully slow response to a complaint. Whatever it is, that experience can flip a switch in customers, moving them from neutral or even happy to downright irate or disappointed.

On the flip side, it’s rare for an employee to start their day thinking, “I can’t wait to give terrible service today!” More often than not, factors like stress, lack of training, or personal issues can affect their performance, leading them to unknowingly offer subpar service.

Categories of Customer Service Fails

By identifying common pitfalls in customer interactions, such as apathy, rudeness, or a lack of knowledge, we can better understand the triggers for customer dissatisfaction. This knowledge is invaluable for implementing targeted training or corrective measures that tackle the root of the issue, rather than just the symptoms.

Ignoring the Customer:

When employees walk past customers without acknowledging them or deliberately avoid eye contact, they’re often perceived as ignoring the customer. The reasons for this behavior can vary — they might be overwhelmed with tasks, undertrained, or perhaps they’re just not invested in their job.

From the customer’s point of view, being ignored can elicit feelings of neglect and frustration. The interpretation is pretty straightforward: the business doesn’t value their time or presence, which can swiftly lead to a mental note to take their business elsewhere.

Passing the Buck:

When employees are constantly redirecting customers to someone else for assistance, it’s a classic case of “passing the buck.” This could be due to a lack of knowledge or accountability, or perhaps a strong case of the ‘not-my-job’ syndrome is plaguing the team.

For customers, this perpetual runaround is beyond irritating; it makes them feel unimportant. The immediate interpretation is that the business lacks competence and a sense of responsibility, reinforcing the notion that maybe they’d be better off taking their business elsewhere.

Cutting Corners:

Cutting corners by doing only the bare minimum and ignoring finer details is often a clear indicator of problems within the staff. Whether it’s due to time pressure, lack of pride in the work, or a poor grasp of company standards, this approach falls short.

Customers who experience this often feel cheated and disappointed. They interpret it as a clear message that the company doesn’t value quality or have any attention to detail. This sort of impression can be a business-killer in a market that demands excellence.

Neglecting Follow-Up:

Addressing only the immediate issue without ensuring the customer is genuinely satisfied can be a glaring oversight. This could stem from overwork, lack of attention to detail, or simply not being trained on the importance of follow-up.

Customers who experience this often feel forgotten and undervalued. To them, it sends a message that the company only cares up to the point of sale, not beyond. This lack of follow-through can break trust and deter future business.

Over-Promising and Under-Delivering:

Making commitments and not following through can be a major red flag. Whether it’s due to an overeagerness to please, poor time management, or lack of communication within the team, the end result is the same: broken promises.

Customers who experience this often feel betrayed and become skeptical of the company. The interpretation is clear: the company lacks integrity and can’t be trusted. This erodes faith and can severely impact customer loyalty.

Lack of Transparency:

Hiding the ball on issues like delays or mistakes can be disastrous. This could stem from a fear of repercussions, lack of training in handling difficult situations, or even a company culture that discourages transparency.

When customers sense this lack of openness, they naturally become distrustful and suspicious. They start to feel that the company has something to hide, leading them to question its honesty. This undercuts any relationship the business may have built up and makes future interactions fraught with skepticism.

Argumentativeness, Dismissiveness, or just plain Rudeness:

When an employee argues, dismisses, or is outright rude, it’s often more than a bad day at play. It could be a symptom of burnout from a high-stress, repetitive job. Sometimes, it’s the result of a poor company culture where managerial support is lacking, or maybe personal issues are bleeding into professional conduct.

Whatever the reason, the customer is left feeling humiliated, angered, or disrespected. The interpretation is damning: the company allows unprofessional behavior and doesn’t value or respect its customers. This is a surefire way to not only lose a customer but also tarnish the business’s reputation.

Effects of Good Customer Service

After slogging through the swamp of bad customer service, let’s cleanse the palate by looking at the flip side. When a business gets it right, customers often walk away feeling valued, like they’re more than just a credit card swipe. Their time, needs, and opinions are respected. It’s a sigh of relief to feel understood, like someone actually gets why you’re frustrated or what you’re looking for. It goes beyond the transactional, making customers feel genuinely cared for.

Then there’s that dash of VIP treatment that makes a customer feel important. It doesn’t have to be a red carpet or champagne—just attentiveness or maybe a sincere “thank you.” This instills confidence in the customer. They trust the business to deliver on its promises today and feel secure that any future issues will be smoothly resolved.

And let’s not forget the afterglow. Customers often leave feeling grateful for an experience that was easy, pleasant, or even delightful. There’s an overwhelming sense of relief that they didn’t have to brace themselves for an ordeal. They feel empowered, like they had a voice and choices during the interaction. And sometimes, it’s as simple as leaving happy—because who doesn’t love a dose of joy?

Ensuring Good Customer Experience Pays

And while the warm feelings created by sending customers off with a smile might be enough to get somebody through the day, business owners should be reassured to know that the extra effort pays off. In dollars, not just social media likes. The aforementioned report from Zippia, reveals some impressive benefits of good customer service:

52% of customers are willing to pay more if they know they’ll receive excellent customer service.

25% of customers are willing to pay up to 10% more in any industry if they’re guaranteed great customer service, and 31% of hospitality industry customers are willing to pay that much more.

91% of customers say that they’re more likely to make another purchase at a company after a positive customer service experience.

71% say they’ve even made purchasing decisions based on the quality of customer service they’ve received.

A loyal customer can be worth ten times the amount of revenue earned from their first purchase.

In addition, recruiting a new customer costs six to seven times more than maintaining an existing one. It’s also much easier to sell to a loyal customer than a new one: There’s a 60-70% chance an existing customer will make a purchase and only a 5-20% chance a first-time shopper will.

Our friend Andrés has a lot to think about if he wants to pound out what are hopefully just temporary dings in his café’s reputation. He’s at the starting line of what’s sure to be a long, enlightening journey. The swift and harsh public response he’s received is a wake-up call, no doubt about it. His first step? Evaluating whether he even has procedures in place to gauge the quality of the customer experience in his establishment. Just like fixing a bad cup of coffee, the first step is knowing what went wrong.

Coming Up:
We’re not done yet! Stick with us for future installments where we’ll delve into topics like how customer behavior impacts service efforts. We’ll also explore why some businesses skimp on customer service training and discuss possible solutions. Ever wondered what personal traits make for exceptional customer service reps? We’ve got that covered, too. And let’s not forget examining the pros and cons of both seasoned and green customer-facing staff.

Thanks for reading, and we hope you’ve found this piece as enlightening as a double espresso. Until next time!

Jason Velázquez

Jason Velázquez has worked in print and digital journalism and publishing for two decades.
Phone: (413) 776-5125

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