Top 10 Ways to Spook Customers

No right-minded business sets out to spook its customers. But that’s inevitable when companies lose sight of what’s important.

What were you afraid of this Halloween? That your customers might disappear like ghosts? That your competitors might pick them off like vultures? That it’s all going to drive you batty? In the spirit of All Hallows’ Eve, Watermark Consulting brings you… The Top 10 Ways to Spook Your Customers: 10.  Respond to customer requests like a zombie. Are your responses to customer inquiries heavily scripted like they came out of some low-budget horror movie? Might your customers feel like, no matter what they say, they get form letters and teleprompter-like messages in response? Remove active listening, critical thinking and personalized problem solving from your front-line and you miss a huge opportunity to impress your customer. If your front-line personnel perform like zombies, you can guarantee that customers will run from them. 9.  Communicate in gobbledygook (or, on Halloween, goblin-dygook). Having trouble reading a billing statement? Or your health insurer’s explanation of benefits? Or correspondence from your financial institution? You’re not alone. Businesspeople are steeped in the practices and language of their respective industries. As such, they often forget to translate their communications for easy public consumption. Instead, they convey their messages using jargon, terminology and acronyms that make their customers head for the hills. 8.  Cut expenses and operate with a skeleton staff. Particularly in times of economic distress, many companies’ first reaction is to slash investments in post-sale operations, because these areas are not viewed as revenue-driving and therefore become easy targets when profits need to be propped up. But while skeleton staffs might offer some immediate gratification in expense reduction, they also foster negative impressions that could snuff out your company’s true brand. Bare bones operations translate into long checkout lines, miserable 800-line hold times, overall inattentive service and visibly overworked and irritated employees – characteristics that are hardly the best ingredients for great customer experiences. 7.  Embark on monstrous transformation projects. Business transformation is overrated. It’s good to have high aspirations and stretch goals, but you’ve got to eat the elephant one bite at a time. Big, hairy, audacious projects have a tendency to be ill-defined and nearly impossible to manage. Plus, most companies suffer from “organizational A.D.D.” and have trouble staying focused on a three-month project, let alone a three-year one. Transformational projects make for good annual report copy, but they often fail to deliver valuable improvements to employees and customers. (Sometimes, all they deliver is disruption and dissatisfaction.) Yes, have a long-term vision – but never underestimate the power and efficiency of incremental advances toward that destination. 6.  Never do a post-mortem. In the whirlwind of daily business activities, people rarely take the time to dissect and diagnose customer annoyances. Customer complaints present a wonderful opportunity to not just recover gracefully (and perhaps win back a consumer’s loyalty), but to also dig up the root of a problem and fix it, once and for all. What’s even rarer than post-mortems on customer complaints? Post-mortems on customer compliments. There’s great value in pinpointing what employee or practice generated customer delight and then figuring out how to replicate that outcome more routinely. Post-mortems can yield silver bullet-like learnings that forever eradicate customer frustrations or permanently institutionalize loyalty-enhancing business practices. 5.  Create a workplace that sucks the lifeblood out of people. To create happy, satisfied and loyal customers, you need happy, satisfied and engaged employees. Create a work environment where employees don’t feel appreciated, respected or well-equipped to do their jobs – and you’re guaranteed to make their energy and passion go away faster than a vampire at dawn. And if you don’t think your customers will notice that difference in your staff, then you really are starting to hallucinate. 4.  Don’t tell your customers what’s lurking around the corner. Creating satisfied, loyal customers is a lot about managing expectations. People’s frustration (or delight) with a business is closely tied to the expectations they had of that interaction. Customers don’t like ambiguity or unpleasant surprises. If you don’t tell them what to expect – how long they’ll be on hold before speaking to a live person, how much paperwork they’ll need to fill out for a mortgage application, what information they’ll need to provide to get an insurance quote, etc. – then they’re more likely to be annoyed when the interaction isn’t as quick, simple or straightforward as they anticipated. 3.  Give your customers tricks and never treats. Do customers walk away from dealings with your business feeling good about the interaction? Do they get what they expected; do they feel like they got a good value? For lots of businesses, the answer is no. Customers will rarely tell you that, choosing instead to just vote with their feet (and wallet) and do business elsewhere. From products that don’t work exactly as expected, to special offers that exclude desirable merchandise, to fine print that can’t even be understood – these are examples of “tricks of the trade” that may draw consumers in momentarily but certainly won’t create a foundation on which to build loyal customer relationships. Contrast that with the indelible positive impressions left on customers who experience treats – pleasant surprises and personal touches that they never expected or anticipated. That’s what legendary, customer-centric brands are made of. 2.  Avoid ownership and accountability like the plague. A gruesome ailment has descended on the business community, eradicating all vestiges of ownership and accountability. Customer calls are not promptly (if ever) returned. Commitments are not kept. Obligations are forgotten. Here’s a little secret: Customers don’t care if your store is immaculate, if your employees have smiles, if you send them fancy newsletters or any of that fluff if your product doesn’t work as advertised and your people don’t follow through on their promises. Want to create a brand experience that outshines all others? Start by nailing these basics and making sure your customers feel cared for. And the No. 1 way to spook your customers… 1.  Put scary people on your front line. Who’s interacting with your customers on a daily basis? Is your front-line composed of superheroes who go the extra mile for your customers, or soulless automatons who frighten your customers with their discourtesy, uselessness and utter inability to deliver on promises? No matter how sophisticated your customer relationship management systems are, or how spectacular your retail store looks, or how advanced your customer segmentation strategy is – it means nothing if the people interacting with your customers are not professional, responsible and genuinely helpful. *** No right-minded business sets out to spook its customers. But that’s inevitably the outcome when companies lose sight of what’s important and valuable to the people they serve. Are you haunted by the prospect of your customers defecting to a competitor? Do something about it before your worst nightmares become a reality. Let these 10 tips serve as your guide, and, before you know it, you’ll be casting a spell on your customers that’ll have them coming back for more. This article first appeared here.

Jon Picoult

Profile picture for user JonPicoult

Jon Picoult

Jon Picoult is the founder of Watermark Consulting, a customer experience advisory firm specializing in the financial services industry. Picoult has worked with thousands of executives, helping some of the world's foremost brands capitalize on the power of loyalty -- both in the marketplace and in the workplace.


Read More