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David Sims - TMCnet CRM Alert Columnist[March 17, 2005]

Three Ways to Lose Customers

By David Sims, TMCnet CRM Alert Columnist

The whole point of CRM is that in doing business with the public, you will have problems with customers. Some will be your fault, some will be the customers’ fault. Part of CRM is the art and science of turning negative customer interactions into positive ones – as CRM preaches, there’s no better time to gain a customer for life than when he has a problem with you. It’s how you manage problems that decides the customer relationship.

I recently traveled to America, and made a number of purchases through for pickup there, since it costs far less to mail to the States than to the Mediterranean coast where I live. I was careful only to order those whose “ship by” dates and outside shipping times would ensure the items would arrive while I was at my American address.

All the items, books and CDs, arrived – except one used CD ordered through Amazon from an outfit called I kept waiting, even though it was days past the absolute last estimated day for arrival. Never got an e-mail saying your shipment’s been delayed, so I figured it would make it.

Two days before I leave America I get an e-mail saying “We are pleased to tell you that your order shipped today.” Thanks for doing business, yours, Caiman.

Here’s Way to Lose Customers #1: This is at least a week and a half after Caiman promised they’d ship it, yet the ship notice contains no word of explanation, no apology for the lateness, no acknowledgement that there was even a problem. As the days dragged on past the time of the promised shipping, there was no e-mail from Caiman saying hey, sorry that we haven’t gotten your CD out the door yet, looks like it’ll be a while, want to change your order or the address it goes to?

I wrote back “Isn’t this shipment going out much, much later than you promised in the Amazon listing? I live in Turkey and I made sure I ordered the CD based on your promised “ship by” dates – so it would arrive when I was in America. I used the outside shipment dates given, as I did on about a dozen other CDs, all of which arrived on time.

“You are the only one to not ship within the time you promised you would, as a result I won’t get the CD here before returning to Turkey. Thanks a lot, liars. You’ll be getting the lowest rating possible on customer feedback from me and I’ll be sure to say that you promise fictitious ‘ship-by’ dates which don’t mean anything.”

It’s clear from both the content and tone of the e-mail that we have A Hacked-Off Customer here, which means a golden opportunity to win a customer for life. Proper CRM here is to say “Gee, we’re sorry, we didn’t know you would only be at the address temporarily,” – not like it matters, a ship-by date is a ship-by date – “have the item returned unopened to us and we’ll ship it to any address you like at our expense, since it’s our screw-up.”

What that does is let the customer know that the vendor recognizes both that there is a problem and it’s the vendor’s fault, both of which are obvious to anyone. With a response like that I’ll know that the company is owning up to their mistake, they’ve personally addressed the situation, they’ll make it right and I can order from them with confidence any time in the future.

Caiman, however, chose to insult my intelligence instead. They sent back “Dear Customer, Your order was shipped on 03/11/2005, Modern Times [Audio CD] Stewart, Al, STANDARD US Postal Service. It usually takes 4-14 business days. Regards, Claire, Customer Service.”

Here’s Way to Lose Customers #2: State the facts of the bollixed situation as if the customer’s at fault. I know it usually takes 4-14 business days to ship, Caiman, that’s why I made sure your original promised ship-by date was early enough where even if it took 14 days the CD would still arrive before I left America. Acknowledge that you’re shipping a week and a half late and you’ll see the problem.

I wrote back to Caiman pointing out this fact, when there was still a chance for them to win me as a customer if they acknowledged that they were grossly late in shipping and asked how they could make it right with me, and got this:

“Dear Customer, The unfortunate and unforseen delay was caused by our suppliers who mistakingly [sic] listed the item when it was out of stock. We apologize for any inconvenience the delay may have caused. Thank you for doing business with us, your patronage is very much appreciated. Sincerely, Claire, Customer Service.”

Here’s Way to Lose Customers #3, strike three and Caiman’s out. Do you believe any of that? I sure don’t. If this mythical “unfortunate and unforeseen delay” had actually happened why didn’t they tell me earlier? Besides, it’s not my problem. If they’re taking my money for a CD it’s their job to deliver aforesaid CD, don’t blame an unreliable supply chain. And the blasé, unctuous boilerplate “apologies” and “thanks” cut and pasted on the end of the e-mail do nothing but infuriate.

Again, no admission of any wrong (“It’s the supplier’s fault”), no personal note of any kind, just a cold, aloof “Oh sorry you’re upset about such a silly little thing, but we can’t really be expected to ship our orders on time, can we?” slap on my wrist.

Anyone wishing to lose their customers need only follow the Caiman way – ignore problems, refuse to take appropriate responsibility, obliquely blame the customer – because, I tell you from experience, it works.

David Sims is contributing editor and CRM Alert columnist for TMCnet.

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