How to disappoint customers in two easy steps

Have you ever had a problem with a product or service, brought it to someone’s attention, and had the issue resolved?

How did you feel afterward? Pleased, satisfied, impressed?

Or did you still feel pangs of disappointment?

If, after the problem had been resolved, you continued to be annoyed or irritated at everything that had transpired, well congratulations…you just learned how not to treat your own customers.

Disappointment: anyone can do it!

agreements,business concepts,collaborations,collages,commerce,communications,concepts,data,exchanges,Fotolia,ideas,information,internet,laptop computers,meetings,networking,technologiesLetting down a customer or client really is so easy, one can do it without even realizing it. After all, it’s simple to be presented with a problem, take the path of least resistance and correct it, and expect the customer to be happy. This is what young folks new to the workforce seem to get taught.

“If a customer is unhappy, say ‘Sorry about that.’ If they’re a pain about it, give them a refund and send them on their way.”

Seriously, that’s what it feels like teens are instructed to do these days, isn’t it?  But fixing problems (ie, keeping your customers happy) is not that simple. Sometimes, fixing a problem is not enough. Sometimes – in fact, oftentimes – you need to fix the problems created by the first problem.

And unless you actually have genuine concern for the person you’re dealing with, you won’t be able to properly deal with a problem and make amends the way they should be made.

What am I talking about?

Example #1:

Last month, I planned a surprise birthday dinner get-together for my wife at a local restaurant. Started decades ago by a few Greek business partners, this place has become a landmark in the area for good food and casual dining. Having been their innumerable times since I was a kid, I knew the menu would have something for everyone’s tastes. I also knew they didn’t take reservations.

If you get there on a Saturday night, chances are you’ll have an hour wait, minimum, so I called about a month beforehand and asked how they handled large dinner parties. “Oh, we can take reservations before 4pm,” the nice lady on the other end told me. I told her how many people there would be and that we’d like tom plan for 3pm, and she said they’d set aside an area large enough for the whole group.


Imagine my surprise, then, when we didn’t get seated until nearly an hour later.

Apparently, they don’t take reservations – they have something called ‘priority seating,’ so that once a table or area becomes available, it can be used by the party who “reserved” it. Consequently, some of our guests, who had travelled from out of state, had been standing around waiting in the foyer for nearly an hour and a half before we were seated.

When I called a couple of days later to express to the manager my absolute disbelief and disappointment, I was given a refresher course in priority seating and was told that he was very sorry for the confusion. He would definitely make sure the staff know not to refer to priority seating as reservations.

And then we hung up.

* First step: Do nothing!

It’s one thing for a regular employee with little to no training to basically say, “Sorry we ruined your wife’s birthday party – hope you come back again!” It’s another thing for a manager who’s supposed to understand customer service to say that.

I doubt we’ll ever be back, thanks.

Example #2:

tomato pasteA couple of weeks ago, I was making spaghetti sauce using a recipe. (I NEVER use a recipe, but in this case, I needed to – long story).  Anyway, I opened up a can of tomato paste and discovered that half of it was missing! The way it had been poured into the can had left the center completely hollow, so I ended up with only half the tomato paste I needed.

Being a fairly proficient cook, I made the sauce with no issues; however, I did make a point to call the customer service number on the can. You might think missing half of a 69-cent can of tomato paste is irrelevant and not worth your time, but the Yankee in me knew that I had not fully received that for which I had paid. Granted, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t even annoyed…but I did feel I deserved a full can, since that’s what I had paid for.

The customer service rep was polite and friendly, apologized, took my information, and said he would make sure I received something for my trouble.

He was right, too. I received a coupon for a free 69-cent can.

Ironically, that made me more annoyed than I was to begin with! Why?

* Second step: Do something – but only the bare minimum!

Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m not the type who thinks he deserves the moon and stars just because of a tiny issue with a 69-cent can of tomato paste. But why only compensate a customer for the monetary value of the product, when the problem created more issues for the consumer? I had to use up another can of tomato paste, which I  had to find in the pantry, which made me take longer to cook the sauce, and then I had to take the time to call the company and explain the problem…all for them to compensate me 69 cents?

Again, I’m not saying this because I want all kinds of free stuff – but providing a bare minimum of compensation (especially when it’s a mere 69 cents) makes it seem like a company is placating a customer rather than helping them.

Satisfaction vs. Loyalty

Back in 1998, business trainer and author Jeffrey Gitomer wrote a book titled, Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless (1998, Bard Press).  The title is based on Gitomer’s belief that “satisfaction” is the lowest level of quality a business can provide before heading into negative territory.

And he’s right! If a customer is less-than-satisfied, you have a problem! So why aim for the low rung on the ladder of customer happiness? The thrust of the book is that one shouldn’t aim for mere ‘satisfaction’ – one should do anything and everything possible to ensure that customer remains loyal. Show genuine sincerity and concern…go above and beyond what the customer expects you to do…rectify the problem and make the customer want to tell people what happened!

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather have a happy customer tell people how I fixed their problem, than have an unhappy customer tell people they’ll never patronize my business again.

Do you want someone providing you bare minimum assistance? Do you want to deal with a company that appears more interested in doing what is ‘expected’ rather than doing what’s right? Do you want to work with someone who expects the empty phrase, “Sorry about that,” to be their go-to response?

Then don’t be that company! If you have a customer who has a problem, look at it from their perspective and don’t just fix the problem. Make them happy.

Make them loyal!


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10 thoughts on “How to disappoint customers in two easy steps

  1. Ha. Exactly. I had a rep at a hospital tell me about my cost for an upcoming surgery in a completely unclear way and after I got upset she still didn’t catch on to what I thought she said, which would have meant my paying an insane amount of money even with insurance. When I finally figured it out she said, “Oh, yes, patients often misunderstand like that.” What?!? Instead of “I’m sorry I wasn’t more clear.” So–blame the customer for your own shortcomings. To their faces. Step 3 perhaps.


  2. Kathy Brodsky

    Great article, Matt. I put it on my Facebook regular page and also on my writer page. It’s great!!!! Kathy Kathy Brodsky o.(603) 668-1975 / / Girl Scouts Studio

    “Like” my author page on Facebook


    • Moments in Our Lives • My Bent Tree & The Inside Story – Green Book Festival Honorable Mention • Just Sniffing Around • Purrsnikitty • The Winner is – Preferred Choice Award, Creative Child Magazine • Stover – Preferred Choice Award, Creative Child Magazine • A Horse Named Special – Creative Child Magazine Picture Book of the Year • A CatFish Tale – Creative Child Magazine Picture Book of the Year; Children’s Choices Award


  3. Pingback: How to disappoint customers in two easy steps |...

  4. Pingback: 12 Top Voiceover Blog Posts This Week - June 7, 2014 | Derek Chappell's Voiceover Blog

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