Op-Ed: 6 Customer relations errors to avoid

Posted Aug 29, 2013 by Anna Johansson
It is four times as expensive to win new customers than to keep existing patrons happy — so be sure not to make any of these fatal errors.
Customers choose goods at a shop in Beijing
Customers choose goods at a shop in Beijing
Kim Kyung Hoon / Reuters
Last month, the social media world ate up the saga of Amy's Baking Company, a restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona that did everything it could to antagonize its customers. Poor service and an even worse response to criticism set a new standard for bad publicity.
While that meltdown may be a spectacular negative example, there are many smaller pitfalls a firm should steer clear of to avoid devastating reviews on Yelp. Here's a look at six customer relations mistakes to avoid.
1. Not communicating during a crisis
Things happen, and every business makes mistakes. What isn't normal is not communicating with customers when things go wrong. Management should certainly take the time to discuss what should be said, exactly, but don't leave customers in the dark. A mistake is one thing; not addressing it in a timely manner is another.
2. Lying (or shifting the blame)
Releasing a statement that acknowledges a mistake is an excellent first step, but that can easily be ruined if your company tries to blame outside factors (or even its own customers) for the problem. Customers can smell a rat, and if you try to hide behind a flimsy excuse, that can do more damage than the initial mistake.
3. Social media abuse
The Amy's Baking Company fiasco showed one way to use social media. It's very easy for customers post inflammatory comments on Facebook and Yelp, but flying off the handle and replying to every one of those comments with capital letters and accusations of conspiracy is just digging your own customer-service grave.
4. Social media non-use
On the other hand, completely ignoring social media is shooting yourself in the foot, too. Customers take to the Internet like lemmings to cliffs, and it's vital to acknowledge what people are saying about your business. Even if there isn't a problem per se (see #1 above), a reply on Twitter, Facebook, or Yelp says your business is interested in what customers have to say, and that's never a bad thing.
5. No emergency measures in place
If your customers can see the employees and management dealing with a problem in an orderly, controlled way, that can instill confidence that the problem will be quickly resolved. Panicking because nobody had a plan for dealing with the problem will make customers look elsewhere, for businesses who know what to do when mistakes happen.
6. Not trying harder
When mistakes happen, it is a business's responsibility not just to fix those mistakes, but to go above and beyond to ensure that reputations are not sullied, and customer trust is preserved. Companies have to offer more incentives, go the extra mile, and bend over backward to make it up to their customers. Simply doing the minimum in the wake of a problem won't accomplish anything.
Outreach and segmentation
Some companies have to deal with thousands of customers every day; others are content with serving dozens. Whatever the scope, it's critical for companies to understand who their customers are, what their needs are, and how best to address them. Audience segmentation is vital to this process, because it helps you break up your customer base into smaller groups that can be processed accurately and fairly.
Outreach also helps. Staying in constant touch with your customers, whether by e-mail, Twitter, or Facebook is another way your company can get to know who you are serving, and what these people want. Hiring a social media consultant is not a bad strategy to keep a finger on the pulse of customer attitudes.