paper valentine's heart ripped in two. business break up

Customers Do Not Need a Big Blow Up to Break Up with You

It doesn’t need to take much for a customer to break up with your business, go to your competition and never use your service or product again.
And there are so many factors that can go into it – the kind of day the customer is having, the kind of day the business is having, weather conditions, misunderstandings, miscommunication, etc. Is it fair? Hell, no. But it happens all the time, and it’s up to the business to mitigate as best they can.

Don’t Owe You Anything

A few years ago, I got into a bit of a heated conversation with a local bakery after I had shared a bad experience online. Their baked goods were amazing but their staff put on the impression that you were bothering them by even being in the store. So, I wasn’t planning on going back anytime soon.  The owner had a big problem with this. Oh, not with their staff’s attitude (which I’d heard similar complaints about from others quite a few times) but rather that I would decide not to buy his products again after a bad first impression.

I “owed it” to the small business to give them another chance.

Um… what now?

Should I give them another chance? Probably. Do I owe them another chance? Very much not. It’s my money to be spent on the experiences I want. The possibility of being ignored by wait staff isn’t something I’m looking to invest in again. And that was a first impression, and I’ve never been back. Many customers break up with businesses at any point in the customer journey, all for some would consider “minor” reasons. But they aren’t “minor” to your customers.

It Doesn’t Take Much

I reached out to my community to ask for examples of experiences causing them to quit using a service or product.  But these examples couldn’t be big – no blow ups or crazy fails, just every day occurrences that bothered them enough to break up with the business. Here’s what I heard:

I walked into an electronics store and nobody greeted me. I then walked up to a sales client and asked if they had any phones available in my preferred brand. He said yes. That was it. I then asked if they used my carrier. Another simple yes. It was a most awkward one sided conversation and I felt this salesperson really didn’t care one way or the other about my business. I bought my phone online from another retailer, and I won’t go there again for any other needs. – Miranda

I moved veterinarians because two of the nursing staff who handle my dog well (he’s not nervous with them) moved clinics. Nothing to do with the actual vet. And I left [a credit union] because they became very dog unfriendly overnight changing their policies. So I moved to [a bank] who love dogs and [an auto association] for insurance because they were also dog friendly. I’m seeing a theme here, the dog dictates my business choices!! – Sara

I’ve left banks for having restricted hours. If I’m working 9 to 5 and you can’t serve me outside of those hours it’s not going to work for me. I also recently made a decision not to return to a place of business when I discovered the owner was supporting anti-mask protests. – Page

I stopped going to a barber when several people told me the staff were bad-mouthing a restaurant I enjoy. To customers. With no provocation. – Heather

I left a dentist because their receptionist was rude. – Jill

I stopped shopping at a tech/hardware place when their sales person consistently ignored the person asking detailed questions about a specific tool and only spoke with the husband. Even after he shouted (Yes, SHOUTED), “Stop talking to me. SHE is the one buying the thing!” – Heather

I stopped going to a major grocery chain because they overcharged me on my bill, then had me stand in a customer service line for a refund for an additional 20 min wait. Not once, four visits IN A ROW. – Erin

Generally, high-pressure sales will guarantee I don’t go back. [A video game store] has owed me $500 since December and you can’t even communicate with them about it… I will never buy anything from them again. But that sort of thing, thankfully, is rare. – Shelley

I changed dentists after I witnessed him berating his employees. I didn’t just change though, I told him exactly what I thought of his approach and that I would no longer being seeing him. – Annette

[I’m not a fan of] overly chatty (lonely proprietor) who then shares details of our last visit when I bring someone with me who has no business knowing that.  – Jim

Went to the dentist and the hygienist was really rough. I ached for days. This dentist has an automated follow up by text that asks if you left smiling. I replied no. Dentist called and I told him. He first tried to make it sound like I was just sensitive to a “thorough” cleaning. I’ve had cleanings before that were thorough. This was more than that. Then he admitted they had been addressing issues with her because she’d been having personal problems. As if that was some kind of valid reason for her to hurt me. He said the next time I went in, he’d clean my teeth. After the non-apology apology, I didn’t want to go back.
P.S. I need a new dentist. – Kevin

There’s one restaurant in town I won’t return to ever because… servers ignored me to the point of me having to flag someone down for every part of my dining experience, while said server “keke-ed” with another table. Happened twice because I figured maybe it was just that day. I’ll never cross their threshold. – Janice

Speaking with someone, in person or on the phone, and being fully aware that they’re responding to your enquires from a script. I’ve worked enough jobs to know the script, come up with something original!  – Melissa

Our condo parking area is next to [a local bakery]. Its customers frequently – and I mean a lot – park in our spots, on the apron, in the visitor spots, despite signs and despite street parking around the corner. We asked the bakery owners to post a small sign asking its customers to respect our private parking. They were rebuffed. I not only will not patronize that outlet, I will take every opportunity to disparage it. A 3 inch by 4 inch sign is what we asked for. What they got by flipping the bird is relentless resentment. – Kate

[A local pizza place] gave away our order not once but twice to other customers. The second time was a free pizza for the first mistake. – Jen

A local gift shop. I haven’t been there in almost 10 years. I used to love buying cards, kitchen stuff and housewares there until the cashier was extremely rude to me when my baby woke from a nap crying mid-transaction. Her loud sigh of exasperation showed she was clearly displeased to have a crying baby in the store. I left the things I wanted to buy on the counter and never went back. – Lara

I stopped going to a the local gourmet foodie store because of the owner’s grumpy response when I came in to pick up one item with my then four-year-old in tow. (My well-behaved, recently-fed, even-tempered, gourmet-in-training, four-year-old, I might add). She suggested I leave my child alone in the car while I shopped. I didn’t buy the oven mitts and that store has probably lost out on $5,000+ worth of purchases from me over the last 10 years (plus the purchases of other parent friends in the area). – Angela

Owner who’s polite but never greets me with recognition (despite the fact that I’ve been ordering the same coffee drink almost every single weekend for the past six or seven years). I still go cause I like the coffee – but am irritated that I do. I do find that I  go less because of his breezy indifference. – Hope

I will never go to my local coffee shop again. Years ago, I was waiting for my coffee and I overheard their staff talking about what a waste of time it was to fundraise for “Run for the Cure”. – Erin

After years as a customer, left a telecommunications company for their competition because a manager trying to “help” me kept interrupting me mid-sentence even after I asked her to stop interrupting me and let me finish. – Liz

No one to talk to. Overly aggressive or rude staff. Being dismissed. Every one of these are legit reasons for someone to break up with a business, because they feel personal even if they aren’t intended to be. It really doesn’t take much to lose your customers. And think of all the potential customers they are going to tell of their experience.

How to protect yourself from a break up

Things happen. We’re humans interacting with humans, so there’s always an opportunity for error on any given day. But, that doesn’t mean your business can’t reduce the chances of it impacting customer retention and causing a break up. Keep these three approaches in mind:

  1. Build relationships  – what will over come any bad experience, is a great relationship. Customers are much more forgiving and understanding if they feel like they have a great connection with your business. That they feel like you have their best interests at heart. As with personal relationships (and this is one as well), forgiveness is much more available with a strong personalized connection.
  2. Really listen to your customers – many businesses have challenges like those illustrated above, but it’s important to realize that and then do something about it. A business can flag these issues by really listening to conversations online, analyzing emails/phone calls received and taking stock feedback surveys, all for opportunities to do better. Address the mole hill concerns before they become customer experience mountains.
  3. Silent shopper yourself – there’s something to the idea of an undercover boss. Take an active role in reviewing your processes and touchpoints as they happen and do a gap analysis between what is actually done versus what the customer expectations are. It’s another great opportunity to learn.

Here are a few suggestions on building trust for your digital engagement that could be considered in-person. What are some “small” (note the air quotes) ways businesses have lost your business, causing a break up,  and what could they have done to get you to come back or brush the incident off? Share below.

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