Here is a perfect example of a company that is losing
business because of the simplest of errors that could so easily
be avoided. This letter appeared in a national newspaper written
by Reverend Janet H. Fife:
"Sir, on my arrival here two years ago I opened a new account
with a gas supplier, carefully spelling out my name and title.
Accounts arrived addressed to "Mrs J. Face". It took four
letters from me to get the name (but not the title) right, at
which point I gave up.
Recently I changed to a different supplier and promptly got a
letter from the old one, asking me to reconsider. It was
addressed to "Dear Occupier". I replied saying that their
continued inefficiency in the matter of my name was one of the
reasons for my leaving them.
Yesterday I received another letter inviting me to pay my "now
non-existent" bills by direct debit. It was addressed to "Mr
This is a perfect example of a company that doesn't care in the
slightest about their customers. How difficult would it have
been to get this customer's name right? Not difficult at all. It
is an obvious case of numbers being more important than people -
but what they don't understand is that their customers are
people, not numbers.
Let's look at this letter piece by piece and see how easy it
would have been for the company to build a strong relationship
with this customer rather than alienating her as they have done:
Firstly she had had this account for two years. Two years is
probably more than enough time to get the details of a customer
right, in fact, two minutes is all it takes to get the details
of a customer right. Why did it take so long, and they still
couldn't get it right? The writer says that she carefully
spelled her name and her title, so what excuse could there be
for such a stupid mistake?
Secondly, she wrote four letters to get the spelling of her name
correct, and even then they didn't get the title right. Why did
it take four letters? Why couldn't they get it correct after the
first letter? The fact remains they should not even have needed
one letter - it should have been right in the first place.
Then, after she changed to a new supplier, this company wrote to
her again addressing the letter "Dear Occupier". After four
letters, couldn't they have got her name right by now? Surely
someone in the organisation should be able to spell her name!
So what are the lessons to be learned from this? What can your
company do to avoid getting your customers offside like this
Quite obviously we need to treat our customers with much more
respect because that's what they expect. What sort of respect?
Well, first let's get their name right. A person's name is the
sweetest sound in the universe to them - the least we can do is
to use their correct name and title where necessary. This may
seem elementary, but it is so often overlooked. Have you ever
caught yourself or any of your staff calling your customers by
the wrong name? Even a customer we have never seen before has
their name clearly printed on their credit card which they use
to pay for their purchases. It is the simplest thing to hand a
customer's credit card back to them, smile, and say, "Thank you
Mr Smith, come back and see us soon".
What does that simple act say to your customer? It is probably
the first time in many months, or maybe years, that someone has
given him the respect of using his name in an otherwise
anonymous transaction with a stranger. Put yourself in that
customer's shoes for a moment. If you were Mr Smith, dealing
with someone you had never met before, how would you feel?
Important? Valued? Respected? You bet!
As customers, we feel we are the most important people to
someone else's business. We are there to give them our custom,
and as such we are in control. That business is there at that
time simply to serve us and to satisfy our needs, whatever they
may be. We are not there because the business is important, we
are there because we are important - and the people in that
business had better understand that we are more important than
But how many times have you been a customer and felt the
opposite? How many times have you felt that you are imposing on
their time, an interruption to their day, a bit of an
inconvenience? I would be prepared to bet that has happened to
you more than once in your life - true?
Now for the tough question. Do you think any of your customers
might feel the same way about your business? How are your
customers treated from the moment they start to deal with you?
Are they treated with the respect they are looking for and in
fact, deserve? Do you and your staff use their name as soon as
you know what it is? Are their requests for information treated
with respect and courtesy? If they have a question that to you
seems fundamental or even inane, do you give a sincere answer or
do you sneer at them with a look that says, "Don't you know
Are their requests treated with dignity? If they ask about
delivery, do you say, "Take it home yourself", or do you ask
them what sort of delivery would suit them best? If they ask
about colours, do you hand them a colour chart, or do you ask
what colour they would prefer? If they ask about payment terms,
do you say, "Cash", or do you say, "Which sort of payment terms
would suit you best?"
Treating a customer with dignity and respect shouldn’t be a
chore – in fact it should be seen as a privilege. That customer
could have gone to any of your competitors, but chose you, for
whatever reason, to do business with. Once you fully understand
the responsibility that goes along with that privilege, you’ll
see your customers in a whole new light – and treat them
accordingly. That’s when you start to build a loyal, trusting
client base that will return again and again. And that’s the
foundation of a truly great business.
About the Author
Lee Fowler is author of the eBook, 'Lifelong Customers: How
- And Keep - Loyal Customers For Life' It's all about the how-to
of building outstandingly successful long-term relationships
with customers, and is available for immediate download at:
businessskillsonline.com along with the free
subscription to his Business Skills weekly e-zine.