How small slips in service lose sales

customer care

This post could fall into the marketing or business category and be better published on my business site, but it is as much about losing opportunities because of careless behaviour as it is about the loss of the sale described in the post, it is worth publishing here for you to read and think about.

I try and support small local businesses as much as possible. A small engine repair shop about a mile away sharpens the chains for my chain saw and has fixed Sue’s lawn tractor when I have been unable or too busy to do it myself. We heat our large, old farm house with a wood furnace, that takes a lot of wood, I take 4 or 5 chains at a time for sharpening. We have been customers for several years, I guess we spend between $300 and $400 a year. Not huge, but considering that is all labour costs, not parts, worth having for any small business.

Six weeks ago, my old, relatively cheap chain saw finally gave up, it was totally worn out after 5 years. I needed to replace it but did not rush as I have been busy on house repairs and painting every weekend since then. I had decided to upgrade to a more rugged brand, the owner of the small business is an agent for a model that I thought would suit me. I had a quick look at the machine and he gave me a ball park price.

Last week, realising that the house painting project is almost done, that the wood pile is pitifully small and that winter is rapidly approaching, I decided to do something about a new chain saw. My first step was to go and visit my friendly small engine repair man. When I got there, he was on the telephone trying to find a part for a waiting customer, another customer was hovering nearby with a sad looking control cable in his hand – obviously next in line to be served.

Not wanting to intrude, I waved to the owner and waited in his workshop just outside his combined office / storeroom door. I know he saw me, I looked at my watch, deciding whether to leave and return later or wait. I waited for 10 minutes until the first customer left, a few minutes later an older man entered the workshop, I said hello, told him that the owner was busy, that he should be free soon and I would not keep him occupied for long.

Two minutes later, the second customer left, the owner walked out the door towards me, but before I could speak, the new arrival started talking. I was surprised at his rudeness but felt sure that the owner would do the responsible thing and ask him to wait while he attended to me. No luck, he started listening to a long story about a lawnmower and ignored me.

If I had only been waiting 2 minutes, I would have been prepared to overlook the bad manners, but not after a wait of over 15 minutes. In my younger more impetuous days, I would have complained. With the discernment  and I hope, wisdom of age, I have learned to choose which battles are worth fighting and risking raised blood pressure for. This was not one of them. I left.

The next day, I visited an agent in town for a well known brand, was very well attended to by a salesman, and got all the information I needed. I still want to check out another make before I buy, but I will not be buying the one from our local man. The new saw will set me back around $700, add on spare chains and chain sharpening, that is upwards of $1000 of sales he will not get from me over the next few months.

Maybe, he was feeling flustered with so many customers in a short space of time, maybe that caused him to be distracted and forget that I was next in line, it doesn’t matter, I felt that I had not been treated correctly. He has lost a customer.

A simple “sorry” as I left would have made a huge difference.

Did I over react? Perhaps, after all I am human – just like my and your customers, we all have our own reality, our own unique perspective. It does not matter whether I was correct or not, I am no longer a customer, that’s what matters, and in this case it was entirely preventable.

It’s little things like this that lose customers and sales, all it takes is a number of those incidents strung together for a business to lose enough customers to destroy it. I do not want to be vindictive and I will not deliberately tell people of my experience, but if asked, I will not recommend the business or the owner as I would have done in the past.

It’s these small lapses, bad manners, little slips in service, careless handling of enquiries, that can close the window to opportunities even before people have become customers.

Whether we sell services, products, our own skills or exchange our hours for wages in a job, we all have customers or consumers, employers and colleagues who want to be treated fairly and with respect.

How do you treat your customers or clients when you are under pressure?

Peter Wright




Image courtesy of Michael Marcol /”.

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  2 comments for “How small slips in service lose sales

  1. Roberta
    September 14, 2013 at 9:20 am

    I could not agree more. I have had similar experiences. Sometimes I simply cannot fathom how businesses ignore customers and treat them with such disdain. And it seems to have gotten worse the last 5-10 years. And young people are the worst. Businesses no longer train new employees on the basics of good customer service. They don’t want to spend the money up front and there-by lose more money from lost customers. Vicious cycle. So sad!

    • September 16, 2013 at 3:31 pm

      True Roberta, but exceptionally, the salesman in the bigger dealer I mentioned was young, no more than 30 but very good.

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