How to Lose a Customer for Life

(Note: If you have corresponded with me and are expecting a reply, please try again. My hard drive failed last week and I have not been able to resuscitate it to date. It had all my contacts and emails on it. I’ll keep trying as failure is not an option in my opinion, but it may require patience on your part and mine.)

How to Lose a Customer for Life – Good Customer Service Is Not Optional

Unfortunately, customers, clients and collectors don’t grow on trees in the back yard. Instead they are expensive and difficult to attain for the tiniest one-person business up to the largest multi-national conglomerate. Regardless of size they are the lifeblood of every business.

Artists and publishers can find information here and in my book about how to find customers, it’s called marketing. Additionally, there is a plethora of art marketing advice available from a wide array of providers on the subject, including books, magazines, blogs, Web sites and consultants. Nearly all of it is aimed at how to capture new business. Don’t let the preponderance of information about getting new customers lull you into thinking keeping existing ones is less important. It is the opposite.

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Keeping customers is more important than finding new ones.

The conversion of a prospect into a customer begins a nourishing, nurturing process. Here is a simple truism: Companies that are successful at customer care will flourish while those that do not will not. Investing to keep a customer happy is far less expensive than the cost of acquiring new ones. There is a break-even point where having a customer becomes profitable. When a business frequently sells to repeat customers, its profit margins grow dramatically as the cost of the customer acquisition is amortized over multiple transactions.

The following is an example of an easy way to lose a customer for life.

Five weeks ago I went to pick up my dry cleaning where I’ve been a steady customer for four years. When I got home, I realized one of my favorite vintage silk shirts was missing from the order. Further, I had a pair of khaki trousers that were not mine. I called the cleaner and he asked me to bring the pants to him, which I did although he could have sent someone to pick them up.

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When I brought the khakis, I expected an apology with an explanation of the policy on lost items and got neither. I had to prompt for what he would do if the shirt was lost. He told me he expected it would turn up and asked for a month at least to find it, again with no apology, or the offer to refund the cost of dry cleaning the missing shirt.

Imagine my surprise when I returned to inquire about the shirt to learn he’d had it for sometime and hadn’t called to let me know. He gave me back the shirt, again with no remorse or apology or offer for some free dry cleaning. These are things I expect would be normal business procedure. If you screw up, don’t make excuses, own the problem, apologize for the inconvenience and offer a make good to let the customer know you are sincere.

Having received none of these things, I left without comment knowing I could have raised Cain and gotten some remittance. But, it would have required me to continue to do business with him which was never going to happen. I tend to save my anger for higher purposes than lost shirts. Instead of throwing a fit, I vowed this small businessman has lost my business for life. And, he’s lost the referrals to his business which my wife and I have offered over the years. For the cost of a free dry cleaning or percent off the entire next bill and an apology, he’s lost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in business and much goodwill. With a dry cleaner on every corner, how many times can he afford to let this happen?

Don’t let such things happen to you in your business. If your customer has a problem you created, you need to recognize it, validate it, apologize for it and offer a goodwill gesture that involves money. Nothing less will lose you the customer for life. One of the best ways to avoid having problems in the first place is to do the right thing first. Don’t wait for anger to be displayed to make your apologetic effort. I suppose my dry cleaner thought he got off easy without having to deal with my ire. What he got is a lost customer, lost goodwill and lost referrals. I’d take a butt chewing every day rather than lose that.

I recently commented on a thread on a Wet Canvas forum. An artist posed the question of whether it was okay to user laser photocopies as reproductions of his art. He was setting up to do some outdoor shows and thought this was a good cheap way to sell low cost prints. If you can’t afford archival print reproductions, wait to get to market until you can.

You only have one chance at making a first impression.

This artist was putting his reputation on the line to be able to sell some prints for $20 or less. I say have some self-respect, find a way to do it properly or stay home. I don’t care if I only pay $20 for an inexpensive reproduction, I expect it to be archival colorfast and to stand up to framing under normal conditions. If it starts fading in a few months, or even a few years, I’m not going to be happy and whatever initial goodwill I had for the artist is going to revert to skepticism and animosity. No business can afford that.

Do the right thing in the first place and you will have far fewer problems later. Having to replace a batch of poorly reproduced prints will more than eat any profit margin an artist might enjoy. Think of the avoidable time, labor and expense of fixing problems caused by poor decision making the artist mentioned has potentially cost himself, not to forget the possibilities for future business and referrals. Is cheapening his art reproductions and his art in the process in order to sell flea market style worth the risk to lose his customers for life? I don’t think so and hope no one reading this does either.

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Barney Davey

I help artists and photographers find buyers, sell more art and operate profitably.

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