Breaking Point: Are The Little Things You Do Killing Your Small Business?

Every customer has a breaking point when it comes to being charged for something. Often, it is not what you would’ve predicted. I’m sure Bank of America did not see the $5.00 debit card charge as their customers’ breaking point. But indeed, this little charge was the proverbial straw that broke the backs of the card holder.

Years ago, when I directed the marketing for corporate clients, my breaking point with ad agencies was the “small” fees like, photocopying, copy changes, delivery services, and meeting fees that were added into the fine print of the contracts. Every month, I would receive a couple of hundred dollars in additional fees. My reaction was visceral, emotional and pronounced. In fact, the initial contracts were often in the six figures and it seemed to me that the agencies I worked with were “nickel and diming” my clients, and it made me mad. When I complained about these charges, I was told this was their “policy” and everything I had been additionally billed for was outside of the contract. They would direct me to the “fine print” for clarification of my misunderstanding.

Even today, working in the tech world, I can’t seem to get away from extra charges. Maybe I’m old, but I have this crazy idea that when I talk to my (outside) tech firm, they are benefiting from the relationship build – but apparently not. They charge me by the minute to talk to them about my project. It absolutely drives me nuts because it limits the idea exchange, the spark of genius that could occur because all I am thinking about is the ka-ching of the bill I’m going to be getting. So I have to ask, is getting an additional 50 or 60 bucks worth the relationship capital you just lost.

This brings me to two points. One is the idea of “policies.” Why is it that “policies” seem to be in the best interest of the company and not the customer? “This works best for us.” “We need these policies so we are consistent within our company.” Believe me, I’ve heard all the rationalizations. But why not have policies that say, “Let’s do everything to make the customer excited to be working with us. EVERYTHING.” Pretty simple. Fifteen words.

My second point; understand that things like add-on charges (particularly for service companies) like high shipping and handling fees, user fees, and consulting fees for meetings, could be your Bank of America’s debit card fiasco. When putting together a contract for services, put in a 5% contingency that covers that crap.

Or, if you feel compelled to show the customer you are doing additional work, include the details in the invoice, but put a N/C (No Charge) beside the item.

It builds enormous goodwill capital and your customers will think it’s remarkable. (Think of Seth Godin’s definition of remarkable – something to remark on).

Zappos understands this. Their policy? A 365-day return window with free shipping BOTH ways. Yes, ten words – simple and remarkable!

Do you have policies that you have implemented in your business that are remarkable? When you changed a policy did that made a difference to your company?

Elaine Joli is a happy entrepreneur, an extraordinary marketing expert, an engaging speaker, a four star author and currently founder and curator at, the independent business resource for small business, entrepreneurs and freelancers. Elaine authored the first and only book on shared ownership titled, Vacation Nation; has run her own marketing consulting firm for 20 years; owned and operated a spa resort in the wilderness; owned a direct mail company, a corporate gift company and chose the gift presented to Lady Diana when the Royal Couple came to Vancouver for Expo 86. She is an advocate and living example to start the process not knowing where it’s going to take you and to disrupt the expectational process. She has had an extraordinarily varied and long career challenging herself, her own ideas and never failing to stop when people told her it couldn’t be done. Contact her directly at [email protected]

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