losing customers in the small print

Losing Customers in the Small Print

Manipulation or “slipping a fast one” is a great tactic in losing customers, not helping them.

Not too long ago, I was getting ready to go out and I realized my car was less than…hygienic. Inside, not so bad, but the outside was definitely in need of a car wash. My condo doesn’t really provide me the “do it yourself” area that I would have preferred so I made my way to our local Shell Gas Station. I didn’t need gas, just needed a clean.

I went in to pay for my impending stroll through the automated car wash, when the cashier quoted me a price $3 more than what was posted behind him. What now? Oh, apparently if you don’t purchase gas, the car wash is more expensive. Fair enough. I get that. “Hey if you spend money on what we want you to spend your money on, we’ll give you a bit of a deal on this other thing.” Totally understand.

Here’s where my customer experience radar goes off.

The three types of car wash prices are posted, clear as day, on this big freaking billboard behind the cashier, BUT in really small lettering at the bottom is a note around “if you don’t buy gas we’re going to pull a fast one on you and charge you more, blah blah”.

Why is this in small print? Are you ashamed? What are you trying to hide? What could you as an organization possibly achieve by doing this…besides getting a few more dollars out of me begrudgingly? It’s not reserved to just gas stations either. Phone companies are brutal about sneaking in hidden charges. Electronics stores do the same thing, promising one thing…unless you take out your magnifying glass. Mouse print, fine print, small print…it all equals “the organization is trying to trick you.”

Companies have been conducting this practice for decades but what they don’t seem to understand is the impact it has on customer experience and their relationship with the customer. Do you think Shell was serving me better by trying to hide this change in cost? Here’s what it did do:

1)   Customer = Screwed – Sure, they’ll pay the extra few dollars once they’ve been confronted with the cost switcheroo, but they won’t be happy about it. All the customer feels is the company using deceptive tactics to squeeze a bit more money out of them.

2)   Employee = An ass – Do you think the employee at the cash register is going to passionately defend this practice that they assuredly know is piss poor practice? Heck no. They’ll either sheepishly say “sorry, them’s the rules” or they’ll agree with you that the company sucks for doing it. Neither really endears the customer to coming back.

3)   Long-term Relationship = Fat chance – So in future, will your gas station, cable company, electronics store be the first choice after these shenanigans? Rhetorical question. There are far too many alternatives for customers to choose from for these practices to persist. But they do.

We hear the terms “transparency and authenticity” a lot, but actually practicing these concepts seems to still be lost. Transparency and authenticity aka don’t lie and be a human being. (kudos to Scott Stratten for that quote) It’ll actually help your brand and your bottom line far more if you’re just up front, rather than what seems like penny pinching from your customers.

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