3 Little Words That Can Lose a Customer

Are you rewarding your team only for speedy transactions, or are they also being rewarded for building relationships? Learn how the little things you say or don’t say can either help you keep or lose a customer.

Bank check

Two Weeks Early

My father worked two jobs most of his life to support my four siblings and me. So he was very proud when he was able to buy a small house for us in St. Paul, Minnesota. He took out a 30-year mortgage with a bank just three blocks away. This bank is also where he maintained his checking accounts and his life savings, which amounted to a good deal of money as he saved over the years. My mother ran the house (a tough job with five kids) and paid the bills.

The mortgage payment was given special status by my father. He insisted that my mother always pay it two weeks early. “It’s part of our pride in our home,” he would say. And, of course, that meant the mortgage payment would never be late. So every month, my mother would sit at our breakfast table, have some toast and coffee and pay the bills, including the mortgage that went into the mailbox in front of our house two weeks before it was due.

Paying It In Person

Time moves on, and kids grow up. Eventually, my siblings and I moved out. But as my father told me, one day he was sitting at the breakfast table with my mother while she wrote out checks to pay the bills. Suddenly, she dropped her pen and looked up at my father.

“Mickey, it’s the last mortgage payment.”

“Thirty-years!” my father exclaimed. “Let me have that check. I want to take it to the bank in person.”

So he went upstairs and got into his finest suit. Then he walked out the front door on that beautiful spring morning and strolled three blocks to the bank. He opened the door to the bank with a great sense of pride, stood in line and then approached the teller.

“Good morning, Sir,” she said. “How may I help you?”

“It is a good morning,” said my father, smiling broadly. “I’m making my last mortgage payment on my house after 30 years,” and he slid the check to the teller.

She stamped the check, then stamped the receipt and slid it to my father. “There you go.”

“There you go?” thought my father. As he told me this story years after the event had happened, I could see how upset he still was.

“I didn’t say anything,” said my father. “But 30 years I had been paying my mortgage to this bank, never late, two weeks early, working two jobs… and all she could say was, ‘There you go’? I mean, she could have said, ‘Mr. Rosen, you’ve been with our bank for 30 years, and you’re making the last payment on your house. Well, congratulations, Sir. We really appreciate you being a loyal customer for all these years. And we hope we can continue to serve you. Thank you so much, Mr. Rosen, and you have a great day!’ Nope. Not even a toaster,” he said.

So my father turned from the teller and left the bank without saying a word. But he came back the next day. He withdrew his life savings, closed his checking accounts and moved them all to another bank. THERE YOU GO!

What Did the Teller Do Wrong?

That’s the story as my father told it to me. Did my father overreact? Well, imagine the investment he had made in the house. Imagine the pride he took in his hard work and early payment each month. Imagine how proud he felt when he entered the bank having completed his 30-year commitment. And imagine how crushed he felt when he left.

What did the teller do wrong? She listened to her customer… but she didn’t understand her customer. She didn’t understand the importance of the moment and how my father felt. She didn’t read his smile, his body language or the expression in his voice. She looked at the situation as a simple transaction rather than one of building a relationship. Even a simple, “thank you” (which should have been automatic) might have been enough to save my father’s accounts.

Now, here’s the scary part. If her manager had been watching that morning and had seen her line moving along quickly, that manager would have judged that this teller was doing a great job without realizing that she had lost a valuable customer. And if my father was telling me about his disappointment years later, how many of his friends do you imagine he told at the time?

Little Things…

In our highly competitive markets, too often we only emphasize big things to attract customers – extended hours, faster delivery, lower prices. These can all be important and potentially expensive to implement. It’s a shame to have all of this effort and expense undercut by small actions (or inaction) with the customer when doing things correctly can have a very positive effect while costing nothing.

Has your team been trained on the little things that can keep or lose your customers? Are you rewarding your team only for speedy transactions, or are they also being rewarded for building relationships? As happened with my father, you can lose your customers due to a lack of understanding of their needs and motives, and never even know you have a problem.

About the Author

Dr. Dennis Rosen is The WinFluence(R) Expert on customer service and sales improvement. He helps retailers, service providers and professionals provide a Transformational Customer Experience(TM) to create customer devotion that leads to customer promotion. He is author of the book, Create Devoted Customers and the instructional audio, The Mental-Rental(TM) Sales Process. Dennis delivers value-filled presentations with an entertaining style that participants rave about.

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