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While each business is unique, in the big picture success or failure is determined by a single, definitive factor: an abundance or absence of profitable customers.

Indeed, it doesn’t matter if a firm provides professional services to corporations or malware removal for consumers. If there’s a steady stream of profitable customers on the roster, then the future is bright. If that stream dries up, then it’s just a matter of time before a sell-off or shut-down.

Obviously, it goes without saying that every business wants — and needs — as many profitable customers as possible. However, despite their intentions, a surprising number of business in all sectors and industries are doing the opposite: annoying, offending, and ultimately losing the very same customers they need to succeed; and in the long run, to survive.

Here are 3 common and costly ways that businesses are losing their profitable customers — and how to keep them:

  • Constantly sending customers to voicemail.

When voicemail arrived on the business landscape several decades ago, it was the back-up plan for when intended calling parties weren’t available. Now, however, in many businesses it has become the default mode, and actually reaching a real human being is the exception rather than the norm.

While this may be somewhat efficient for businesses, make no mistake: customers aren’t fans of voicemail. No, this doesn’t mean that businesses must spend massive amounts of money on 24/7 call centers. But yes, it does mean that businesses need to ensure that they aren’t using voicemail as a first line of defense to avoid connecting with customers (methods like ring groups and hunt groups are usually quite effective here). Otherwise, before long businesses won’t have many — or perhaps any — incoming calls at all. That’s a far worse problem!

  • Making customers wait in line at retail stores.

One of the biggest reasons that brick-and-mortar retailers are losing business to online competitors isn’t because of price: it’s because for many customers, the in-store shopping experience isn’t enjoyable; on the contrary, it’s tedious. And perhaps the biggest sore spot for customers is waiting in line as they slowly march towards the (usually exhausted) cashier.

While eliminating line-ups isn’t possible, retailers should definitely invest in technology and training to minimize the time that customers spend waiting to pay for their purchases. For example, many drug stores are using a mobile pharmacy POS (point-of-sale) device to essentially create a checkout portal anywhere in the store, or even outside (which is ideal for curb-side pick-up).

  • Failing to close the gaps.

Many businesses integrate with various third parties to improve efficiency and agility, while lowering costs and risks. For example, e-commerce businesses use drop shippers for order fulfilment, IT companies use sub-contracted specialists for warranty support, and so on.

While this model can work well on the back-end, the problem arises when customers fall through the gaps. For example, they may be told one thing by Company A, but then another thing by Company B. Or they may experience good service and support from Company A, but lousy service and support from Company B.

The best — and really, the only — way to fix this problem is by analyzing the customer journey, and making sure that there no gaps for customers to fall into. For example, Company A can take ownership of all issues and manage communications vs. oblige customers to deal with Company B (and perhaps C, D and E as well!).

Essentially, it comes down to this: customers want and increasingly insist on a positive end-to-end experience. Businesses that meet this demand can look forward to long-term loyalty. Those that don’t will see customers head to the competition — and they won’t come back.

The Bottom Line

The battle for customers’ hearts, minds and, indeed, dollars is fierce and relentless. Businesses can’t rely on yesterday’s efforts or brand equity to get a free pass. Rather, they need to constantly lean forward and clearly demonstrate that making customers happy isn’t just a promise they make, but a commitment they keep.

Avoiding the major errors described above will go a long way towards achieving this fundamental objective, and ensuring that a business’s best days are always ahead — never behind!


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