10 ways to make your small business customers wish they weren’t

small business owners who don't have contingency plans in place for absences may lose business

Recently, I moved into a city apartment. It’s been more than twenty years since I’ve been a renter. My assumption was I’d have a lot fewer hassles as a tenant than I endured as a home owner of a farm property with aging buildings.  

I was wrong.

I treasure good vendors (and clients). It can take some time to find talent, work ethic and integrity, but when you do, you learn to treat these folks like gold. Few are more valuable than a reliable and knowledgeable handyman.

So, my top priority in deciding on a new dwelling was finding a small business with a good reputation for maintenance attention. I chose an apartment with a premium price (30% more) to land in a neighborhood that called to me with a property manager known for her attention to tenant concerns. What I didn’t realize is things were falling apart in her absence (medical leave).        

small business owners who don't have contingency plans in place for absences may lose business
Photo credit: Nanette Levin

After five weeks making calls, stopping by the property management company, living with issues that were promised to be corrected immediately upon move in and being lied to, I blew.

The tipping point came after I had to juggle my schedule and lose income to be available for a meeting with a staffer who didn’t show and didn’t call to cancel.

I don’t get livid very often, but imagines of a cerebral Hulk (with a creative bent on bringing wrath down on unjust operators) come to mind. You won’t like me when I’m angry.     

That was Monday. Tuesday (in response to two voice mails I left and another phone call the next morning when I actually connected with an employee), an indicated supervisor contacted me. I have to give her credit for responding. The blame game that she started the call with, though, wasn’t so smart.

The facts are, I wrote checks to this company in excess of $3000 in the first five weeks of our ‘relationship’. I’d been living with a leaking toilet that didn’t flush, a primary entry door that cannot be locked from the outside and a variety of other small items that were promised to be addressed immediately.

I would have been fine if I had been told these issues would be handled a couple of months from now, but being promised each week ‘it’s in the mail’ raised frustration levels to a crescendo.  

Here’s what they did that you shouldn’t if you want to keep your customer’s confidence:

  1. Promise and don’t deliver.
  2. Blame someone else in the company for failure.
  3. Lie (yes, I do have a phone that records attempted calls even if you don’t leave a message).
  4. Claim a faulty fix is good enough.
  5. Start your resolution conversation with an argumentative comment that puts the client on the defensive (the ‘supervisor’ – I’ve since been told by other tenants she’s a subordinate – began her discourse by stating they made a mistake letting me move in on the day my lease started).
  6. Fail to look at the situation from the client’s perspective.
  7. Don’t employ capable employees who can handle running the business up to customer expectations in the event of an unexpected absence.
  8. Tell customers what a pain your other clients are (I’m not kidding – each time I stopped in the ‘substitute’ property manager would talk about other tenants who were ruining his days calling for months on problems that hadn’t been addressed. That’s supposed to assuage my concerns?).
  9. Ask if your client has a preference (would you like maintenance people to call before-hand or just show up) then ignore the stated preference. Don’t offer it if you have no intention of honoring it.
  10. Show up without notice, don’t leave a note and expect a client to realize you’d been there.

In the end, I decided to employ a contractor I had used in the past to end the aggravation. Total cost $75 for time and materials. Huge gain for me in ending the time (mine’s a lot more valuable than their unmotivated employee – although I imagine his wage for making trips to do nothing added up to be considerably more than I paid to get the work done), stress and frustration of a bad provider. It will be interesting to see how the management company decides to handle my personal expense.

What will it cost them? One tenant for sure, likely a lot more. Probably a lot of court costs too, given the type of tenants they’re more likely to land with this gal gone. Evictions are expensive.

Good will can be lost a lot faster than it’s built. If your small business is dependent on a single person to keep it running effectively, fix that.    

8 responses to “10 ways to make your small business customers wish they weren’t”

  1. Phew, what a catalog of disasters. Yet another story for the customer service Chamber of Horrors. Thanks for sharing it; it’s a timely reminder of so many small business dos and don’ts.

    • Thanks for stopping in and commenting, Sherrie. When I was renter a long time ago, I tended to find places with absentee landlords. Those were actually easy to deal with – work got done immediately (either by me, a contractor secured by the landlord, or more often one by me) and I’d just deduct the costs from my rent.

  2. It sure was, Amy. I always look back at these dumb situations where I get focused on the problem and the way things are supposed to be done and shake my head that it took so long to see the easy solution. Costs (that extend well beyond money) can be less obvious when you’re doggedly immersed in a situation. If I could operate in the present with hindsight, I’d probably be brilliant :-).

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