Customer Experience

5 Ways To Destroy Your Customer Experience

It always amazes me when organizational leaders think the small things don’t matter. They say things like, “That’s just one comment” or “We don’t pay attention to anecdotes.” It’s OK to use data and big results to guide the big decisions, but it’s not OK to ignore the little things. These small things amount to a lot. In today’s world, where 89% of us will shop with a competitor after a bad customer experience, it’s imperative not to make these mistakes.

Image Credit: wonder_stewie via Creative Commons

1. Make It Complicated
Is there anything worse than wanting to purchase something and realizing it’s just too complicated to do so? It is easy to think of the online labyrinths that drive customers away with too many steps or bizarre registration requirements, but what about the offline experiences that create just as much mayhem? Not staffing appropriately, creating store layouts which are basically void of any direction, or simply not having items in-stock can drive your customers right to your online competitors.

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2. Ignore Mobile
Any company that is selling anything online, I beg of you, design a mobile-friendly commerce experience. We are buying things from your competitors because you are forgetting about how we are actually living these days. Customers vanish when the mobile experience is subpar. Mobile optimized is not necessarily mobile. Those teeny weeny buttons are very hard to press when you are on a bumpy train ride. And if I see an item on the screen, I need a way to really see it up close. How about the information someone might be seeking via mobile? Phone numbers, directions, or an email link should be front and center.

3. Keep that 1990s’ Attitude
Assuming customers are loyal for loyalty’s sake is a good way to destroy the experience. Just ask Kodak or Borders. Ignoring the reality of today’s marketplace is ignoring what your customers really want. If your customers HAVE BEEN loyal, it doesn’t mean they WILL BE. Treat them as the gems they are. Don’t assume they will be there tomorrow with the status quo of today.

4. Hire Wrong
Your employees drive your customer experience. If they are unhappy, miserable, or just plain tired of their jobs, that will translate into a miserable experience for your customers. Companies like Southwest Airlines and Zappos have made it a huge part of their culture to make sure they get the right people on board. And their experiences for customers reflect that. It’s imperative to hire the right whole person, not just the person with the right resume or skillset. Skills don’t create customer loyalty. People do.

5. Assume the “It’s Not My Problem” Position

Is there anything worse than being a customer who is literally being passed around like a hot potato? Whether it’s the cashier who doesn’t know how to handle an exchange or the customer service rep who has put you on hold for the umpteenth time, it’s extremely frustrating. When there is a real issue to resolve, the person representing the company better be informed and empowered to deal with it.

Of course there are many more ways to destroy a customer experience. But companies who make these mistakes are destined to live with the consequences of losing customers.

What mistakes would you add to this list?

  Discuss This Article

Comments: 59

  • Sadly, #5 seems to appear because employees so avidly avoid that #4 spot, of the hot potato getting turned around to them. Particularly these times, try to explain a clearly understood company policy or even industry standard, should it not suit a customer with a difficult demand or even pro-capacity buyer unable to admit the role of their job fully. Would think this article could get shared more but then again, does not connect or align expectations of the corporate culture setting the tone or establishing the practices. Plus, with #1 your are going to get #4 or #5, don;t care who your Lil’ Miss Sunshine is. Be honest sometimes. No person lives in Groundhogs Day. But the processes that surround make it sticky, messy, low-grade and fussy, or not.

    • Hi Jess, well I suppose it’s a good thing that sharing picked up since you commented here? Perhaps that’s a sign companies are *starting* to get the message? :)

  • #4–If they are unhappy, miserable, or just plain tired of their jobs, that will translate into a miserable experience for your customers. I agree. There is nothing worse than to have poor customer service. I can not tell you how many times I have been in line and heard an employee talk about how they hate their job, or that the manager sucks, or even talk about what their plans are for the weekend. Save those comments for the break room or even better one you are in your car or at home! I am the customer and I deserve to be treated as if I matter.

    • (Please check out Joanne says:
      November 25, 2013 at 7:44 am)

      Obviously, you haven’t worked in customer service field. To make you better understand why that reason is. Is because that employee is normally happy. And at anyrate you might want to keep the happy. Because, my best bet is on the cae at all times. Managers are always going to give you the same answer the cae has. They are on the same time. And the CAE’s stats effects the manager stats.

  • Great list. One of the biggest mistakes I see these days is completely forsaking visual design aesthetic. Yes, functionality is supremely important but the visual aesthetic tells the story about who you are and what your company is about. If you look and feel like Joe Blow, you will be easily forgotten. If you are an eCommerce player, your design aesthetic should at least be better than say, that of USPS (which by the way has a cleaner look and feel than a great number of e-retailers).

  • Great article but honestly you missed the most obvious and crucial item….the women’s restroom and it’s cleanliness. This will be seen and used by about 75% or more of shoppers. We can throw the men’s restroom in there too but let’s face it men aren’t as picky, although it will count for something as well. After that you can also factor in complete store cleanliness, atmosphere (including temperature), and organization for the rest of the package. Mostly it’s about the things you don’t notice that keep you coming back time and time again but add in the lack of the above items and you can see why places like Kmart are going by the wayside. It’s a total package that retailers have to offer these days for the complete shopping experience, otherwise why not just buy it online?

    • Joseph, when discussing in-store retail experience, you are absolutely right. I’d also throw in the cleanliness of the baby changing table (in BOTH restrooms, thank you very much) and if you want to see this in action – Nordstrom’s Women’s Lounge provides beautiful, comfortable space for nursing mothers. And it’s always packed!

  • Long term perspective is essential in marketing. Investing huge capital for marking schemes – and hurrying to catch customers is not good.

    • Marketing is only a small part of the customer experience, IMHO. If marketers are making these decisions, they are bound to be short-lived and focused on acquisition.

  • One of the greatest enemies of good business is the bad manager who will sadly never recognise their own shortcomings. It is an impossible situation to resolve until these ‘people at the top’ find their own souls. Don’t hold your breath
    Part of a short story I once wrote … all true.
    It starts with a bad manager we once shared. You may well have suffered at the hands and mind of such an appalling creature yourself, there’s a few out there.

    It went a bit like this;

    Stage 1: deny any useful staff the chance to go on a course, especially if it looks like being good fun. Stage 2; make sure your own name is included on the course list. 3, having been on the course, had a free meal and claimed mileage never ever put your new skills into use. 4; finally realise that you need someone to do the work that you don’t want to do. 5; select a couple of the originally ignored ‘useful people’, (they’ll catch up, won’t they?) 6, don’t send them on the beginner’s course, there’s no time for that now – as you’ve left it too late. Send them on the advanced course instead. (‘Not done the basic course? Oh, it was so easy; you don’t need that silly one first’) 7; expect gratitude from the selected staff you are now belatedly sending. 8; ensure that you tell your own boss that all is under control now – thanks entirely to your omnipotent and invaluable forward thinking self, of course.

  • We also need to remember that sometimes it is more harmful to maintain a customer then to simply let them go. If a customer is a drain on your resources then perhaps it is time to ask them to leave and go elsewhere for services. Don’t be afraid that you can’t replace them with another customer that is a better fit for your company.
    It may be hard in the short term, but in the long run it will pay off for your company. Just be sure to do it in a respectful way.

    • It’s a good point, Craig, and one most companies can’t face simply because they don’t know what a good fit is. If the company doesn’t have a clear mission and understanding, it’s impossible to decide if the customer is the right one or not.

  • #5 is critically important but there’s a hidden aspect to that companies desperately need to be aware of: How you treat your employees will directly, absolutely impact how your employees treat their jobs and your customers. If you think of the companies with legendarily bad telephone customer service experiences – Time Warner Cable, AT&T Mobile, etc – and you spend a bit of time with a search engine looking for employee satisfaction at those companies, you will find time and time again that companies with the worst customer service consistently treat their call center staff as though they’re disposable, unvalued, and looked down upon. I spent years working in call center environments with that attitude (and hating every second of my job), and I’ve got relatives going through the same thing. I went to work for a company with a totally different attitude, for a guy who gave me a book to read about how the best customer service experience is always going to come from employees that are happy, valued, and empowered to actually HELP customers. When I became a manager there, I put that into practice. He was right. I wish more companies understood that.

  • Spot on Ms. Walters! With the explosion of mobile commerce, it is fascinating to me that more companies have not heavily invested in this area. Providing a seamless mobile experience, then context of that experience when a customer chooses a second or 3rd channel to interact, is also going to play a big role in optimizing cross channel experiences many buyers embark on.

  • #4. I agree, companies need to “hire right”. However, nothing impacts customer service as does staff turnover; which occurs frequenly where companies won’t invest in their employees, refuse to hire enough staff and supply only minimal training. Not only does your competitor get your customers, they also gain the good customer service your savvy ex-employees take with them.

  • Things that tick me off include sites with no ‘contact us’ or address details; no phone number; premium rate phone number or phone number with nothing but IVR responses (Virgin Media is prime example) – in other words ALL they want is my money without any proper customer back-up.

    • Good one, Phil! I also really don’t like when the recording of options sounds like a tired person. My doctor’s office has that and every time I try pressing buttons to avoid it!

  • Great article! I would emphasize #4 when it comes to CRM (Customer Relationship Management). Large retailers spend millions on CRM departments and data warehouses to get best customer insights and marketing returns. However, retailers seem to miss the most important customer contact point, which is the interaction with their store associates. Many large retailers view store associates as expendable, which is crazy since they have the greatest customer contact. Keep your store associates happy and they will in return keep your customers happier.

    • Yes, yes yes! Costco is a great example of a store that invests in employees and creates a great experience because of it.

  • #5: Is there anything worse than being a customer who is literally being passed around like a hot potato?

    yes, when gifted writers pander to millennials by malaproping ‘literally’

    this ends now!

  • #6 You can’t please everyone.
    Fail to realize that every single customer’s perception of your business is reality and you’ll soon be out of business. It’s true that some people just like to complain, so the accomplishment is even greater when you win them over. I have yet to meet a customer I could not please and send off with a smile – even when I could not solve their problems. The “magic formula?” Empathy + Respect + Honesty. Works every time!

    • Excellent advice, Lynn! I like to advise people to stick to the facts. Often, intense emotion makes everyone involved act a little cuckoo!

  • Good start Jeannie, but you missed 2 important ones:
    #6 Be inconsistent
    A guaranteed way to annoy customers is to make sure staff in the store tell a completely different story to staff in the call centre. These days everyone in your company should have access to a single CRM system where you keep all notes about customers.
    #7 Don’t deliver on promises
    Simple things count. If you promise a customer a callback at a certain time you have to make that call. Even if it’s only to update them and tell them that the issue hasn’t been resolved.

  • Some companies seem to think annoying your customer is a good thing. From convoluted processes to getting the advertised “good deal” to an assult of “Like me on social media” popovers on every page of the website, to “spam your friends with every purchase.” It leaves a bad tast in your mouth fast…

  • Another effective way to destroy the customer experience is design. For example, when two competitor companies each has a Web site, but Company A has a beautifully, efficiently designed site while Company B does not, Company B will eventually lose customers to Company A. Another example is two otherwise identical restaurants, but Restaurant A has very clean, well-designed restrooms, while Restaurant B is the opposite. The same dynamic will ensue. Design is not always given the thought it should be. Design flaws will eventually hurt the company because they continuously hurt the customer experience.

    • Totally agree. Nothing kills a great restaurant faster than being seen as “old news.” A lot of the time, that’s about decor and design more than food.

  • Hi Jeannie,
    Great points you make here! I’d add to this list of no-no’s to have your CEO take the “mean girl” approach to saying that people who can’t fit in their clothes are not customers they want anyway. Recent poster children for this issue are the CEOs of clothiers Lululemon (see Forbes article: and Abercrombie & Fitch (see BusinessInsider article:

  • Great “don’ts” here, Jeannie! A point that could probably fit into one of these categories is neglecting to communicate with the customer where they are reaching out to you, eg: Twitter, Facebook, email. Customers want to resolve an issue in their own way on their own terms. Understanding that key point of today’s customer service is huge in satisfaction with resolution.

  • There should also be a #6 for an online shopping portal – Failing to deliver as promised / stated.
    A site that fails over and over again to meet the delivery deadline as printed on the deal’s page is just – well, FAIL! Customer genuinely bought the products wanting it on a certain date for whatever reason doesn’t receive it within the stipulated timeframe….result – cancelled purchase and buying from competitor that fulfills as promised. Go figure!

  • I think you should always remember that even the big guys were little guys once upon a time. I beleive everyone should be treated equal.

  • Did anyone point out the importance of communicating in both a quick and substantive manner. In the practice of law for over 25 years. Clients or customers who reach out will generally be quite offended if their is no response to their communication. If there has been a problem on the side of the provider, either in the form of product or service, reaching out to the client/customer can cure a myriad of problems and turn unhappiness into respect and loyalty.

    • Harvey, it also makes me think of how important it is to proactively communicate when there *might* be problems. It’s ok to say things aren’t perfect, but it’s not ok to try to sweep things under the rug.

  • Hello Everyone.

    Interesting article and I am a firm believer in the ‘little things’…those things the customer might not realise they’ve noticed, but do!

    For me it’s about having a customer promise – whether differentiating through price, product, innovation or customer experience your customers have got to know where they stand. At the same time though you need front-line empowerment and personality to prevent ‘service by numbers’ or making things too processed.

    My opinion only but Lush, Hollister, Apple, Hotel Chocolat and Goldsmiths to this really well, to name but a few. To wrap this back to the article I’d put inconsistancy in there too; both in terms of a store network and across each channel.

    Thanks, Adam

  • I would add not having a company definition of the Customer Experience that produces the desired outcomes for the very customer they serve. Customers are focused on outcomes and when a company provides an experience that drives to these results they are winning. Providing a great product is no longer the standard of a winning company. It is only one factor. Providing a great experience that leads to desired outcomes creates loyalty. Companies that understand this will do well.

  • I have been on both sides of the counter and the one thing I learned to focus on is repeat business. I return to those places (on-line or in-store) when I feel that I was taken care of. When I sold electronics not everyone bought on-the-spot and when asked about those who didn’t my answer was “they will be back.” There was no hard sell and no attempt to have them buy until they were ready, why? I never wanted a return. I took care of them, answered all their questions, and whetted their appetite. When they were ready to buy they would either wait until I was available, or ask for me when I was not.
    For example: A lady came into our electronics showroom wanting to buy a DVD player, receiver and a set of speakers. There were few people in the store so instead to explaining what was on display I put on a DVD, piped it through several receivers and speaker sets and asked her to tell me which combination she liked the best. With no more than her ears she ended up picking the top-of-the-line in each category without any tech talk at all. She was very surprised, but I wasn’t. The bottom line was the sound quality and only the ears can determine that. So she left the store with the list of components she had chosen and she came back to buy them several days later.
    Today when I enter a store not only am I not taken care of, I am left alone unless I ask for help. Some retailers are employing greeters, but they only say “hi” unless I ask them a question. But I am not there to be greeted, I have something I want to buy and I am reviewing your selection to see if you carry what I want. Meanwhile, the store remains highly understaffed whose primary job is to make sure inventory is put on a shelf or moved around to better promote it. There is no attempt to “sell” unless it is the very high end merchandise that needs coaxing in order to get the customer to buy. With that attitude customers go on-line to do comparative shopping from any number of websites at their disposal until they settle on something.
    Maybe someday retailers will return to “selling” their merchandise and not just displaying it. Then the repeat business will return. And they will give on-line a real run for their money.

    • Don’t get me started on greeters. They typically can’t answer questions and are happy to say hello and move on. Sounds like you were very good at your job!

  • #4 — There are so many companies, like the San Diego-based Z57 and, that are revolving doors for employees and they place absolutely no standards on who they hire. Instead, companies like these play “the numbers game”: they know that by giving sales reps a target number to hit, and with those reps being new and yet to experience their spirits being broken, they can get good performance for a few months. Then when the employee realizes he is unappreciated and burned out and his numbers decline, they replace him with someone else. Customers can smell this like a fart in a car. It is a cyclical pattern of total depravity. The companies know they can prey off job-hungry people in a downed economy, and they know that for every customer that walks away a new soul to break can recruit 5 more.

    • Broken spirits and farts in a car? Oh my. You’re right on the numbers game – it only works until it doesn’t. Many failed companies relied on that game.

  • #6- Inflexibility. Many big companies are making the mistake that every customer is the same and therefore a ‘one size fits all’ mentality will do: not so. Customers need to feel that they are recognised as individuals and not one of a herd. Apple are making this mistake; I recently had a disastrous experience in one of their UK stores simply because the assistant, as well as the manager, failed to acknowledge the fact that I knew more about the tech than they did. Inflexibility meant that I left the store disgruntled and, crucially, without buying anything. They’ve been programmed to deal with basic motr complaints and couldn’t see outside of that cookie cutter world. This is common when a large corporation is too big to get out of its own way.

  • Yes, and common sense is not so common. When employees are told to only do one prescribed thing in response to inquiries, they lose their sense of “this doesn’t feel quite right” when dealing with people.

  • We are getting ready to open our own retail store, and have been observing every retail business we visit. One of the things I did not find in this article that has to be a top 5 in “Greeting each customer like you would a welcome guest in your home.” Not a mandatory Welcome to ________, but something catchy that is delivered with a smile. Another item is my personal turn off: “Hi you guys” delivered as a greeting when it it my wife and myself! Last time I checked, my wife was not a guy! This might be common when talking to/with a group of friends, but it just feels wrong in a business, especially retail. Why not keep it simple with a little style like; Welcome to ___________ my name is __________ How may I assist you today?” No that can be a little too formal, so make it your own with some class and style.

    And everybody on the floor should thank each guest as they are leaving and encourage them to come back soon! It is too easy to forget that without each and every customer enjoying their experience, there is no money to for payroll and soon no job either.

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