Are You Chasing Away Business?

Years ago--well before check cards were invented--I stopped at my local Sentry grocery store where I shopped weekly for 12 years. I ran out of printed checks and I had a few "counter checks" from my bank to get me through until my new checks arrived. As usual, I wasn't carrying any cash or my credit cards. I was in a hurry because I was on my way to a business meeting, but I needed a snack.

I picked up a couple of items, totaling about $3, and started to write a check for them. The clerk refused to take my check because it was a "starter check."

I was irate! I had a valid checking account, had not given them or anyone else any checks that were rejected by the bank for insufficient funds, and after 12 years of shopping there, I felt they should know who I was and that I would not give them a bad check.

Later, I wrote a letter to the store manager, explaining the situation and complaining about the treatment. I also pointed out that I had spent an average of $60 per week for 12 years (close to $40,000) there and I planned to take my business elsewhere. And then I did just that after the store manager failed to follow through with an offer he made.

That was then. This is now.

A couple of weeks ago, I went with my husband to look for a new car. We were in the market for a fun little sports car. We thought getting a two-seater, sporty convertible would be a pretty good way to take care of Don's "midlife crisis."

(Other men seem to get divorced...)

Anyway, we stopped at the Pontiac dealership first. A salesman came up to us, offered his hand to Don, and said, "Hi. I'm Larry Henry, and you are?"

Don shook his hand and replied, "Don Crawford."

I put out my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Lois Carter Fay."

At first, the salesman totally ignored me. Then he did a double-take and finally shook my hand. It was a good 20-30 seconds delay.

I was steaming.

Both my husband and I knew he just totally blew it. (I don't think Larry had a clue.)

Because what that stupid salesman didn't know is that Don may drive the car, but he is never going to buy a car from someone who treated me like that.

Of course he wouldn't ignore such rude behavior; he respects me.

But besides that, if he did, he knows that every time I got in the car, I'd be angry, and say, "I can't believe you bought this car from that jerk!" Don's a pretty smart guy. He's not going to chance ruining his fun time by buying from a guy who treated me that way. So he said, "Thanks for your time." And we moved on.

We went to two other dealerships after that and both salesmen were smart enough to acknowledge me. In fact, the salesman at the dealership that won the sale (2001 Porsche Boxster convertible) really catered to me. (Smart guy.)

He bent over backwards to let us check out the car, too. We took it out for a drive for about 30 minutes. And it was like the good old days--no salesman rode with us to listen to our every word and make sure we didn't steal the car. We drove it alone. (Fast! With the top down.)

What I did years ago to deal with the customer service problem--writing a letter to complain about it--is pretty unusual behavior. Most people just tell everyone they see about your poor customer service--maybe 250 people before they get tired of talking about it. That would be pretty bad for your business, wouldn't it? (And just think. I'm still talking about the Sentry grocery store after 15 years. How many people do you think I've told?)

And today, the damage can be much worse. Because every day, customers who feel they've been mistreated start to blog about you, and it's picked up by others and spreads just like a cold virus. Soon your reputation is in the toilet.

Reprinted from Marketing Idea Shop's "Brainy Tidbits," a free weekly ezine featuring brainy marketing ideas and resources for entrepreneurs and marketers. Subscribe to "Brainy Tidbits" at and receive "67 Ways to Promote Your Business" free by return email. And while you're visiting, check out all the articles and resources on Marketing Idea Shop's website!

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