It’s tempting to view your existing customer base as a measure of your success. These people or companies have chosen to do business with you—clearly you must be doing something right.

But complacency breeds bad service. And there’s no faster way to suddenly find yourself with a very short customer list than to let your standards slip—or to have none in the first place. Often, it’s the things you don’t really think or do anything about that can lead to the loss of existing clients and prevent you from attracting new ones.

Recently, I hired a company to improve my Google ranking so people could find The Language Lab more easily. As with some search engine optimization (SEO) companies, this one offered predesigned packages of services that included writing website content, as well more technical fixes.

I didn’t need the firm to write website content, because writing is my business. So I asked that they focus on things such as key words and link building, and leave the writing to me. But the sales associate told me the firm preferred not to deviate from the preset packages. She assured me that I’d be pleased with their writing team’s work. ‘Might as well give it a try,’ I thought.

The results? Not good. Every piece of content the company created was riddled with typos and incorrect information. I pointed out these problems to my sales rep. Each time her response was something along the lines of, “I won’t argue with you, you’re right,” or “I would feel the same way in your shoes.”

If I hadn’t been so frustrated, I would have laughed. Here was a person representing a company that was doing poor work agreeing with me that the work wasn’t good, but offering no solutions.

At the end of the trial stage, I decided, I’d had enough. I no longer wanted to pay to be frustrated, annoyed, and distressed.

I learned something from this incident. One of the worst things you can do to a client is to over-promise and under-perform. Ignoring your client’s true needs because you have a preset notion of what will work—a “one size fits all” mentality—can really backfire.

Here are five things you can do to turn off clients without really trying.

Patronize Them

Offer false sympathy (“I would feel the same way if I were you”) and meaningless pat statements (“I can’t argue with you”). Never take action, investigate the problem, or offer a solution. 

Hide from Them

Don’t act on the client’s needs, or check with them to see if they are happy with the work being done. Assume everything is fine. If the client tells you otherwise, well, they’re wrong!

Never Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

If errors are made that even you simply cannot deny, do your best not to offer any form of compensation.

Do Shoddy Work

Make sure not to check that the deliverables are thoughtful, correct, appropriate, and devoid of typos and errors.

Don’t Listen to Them

Don’t, by all means, develop your listening skills. That will help you avoid better communication and accountability.

• • • • •

Obviously, this is not a to-do list for any business that wants to retain customers. But hopefully, it serves as a reminder that it’s much easier to lose clients than to gain them.

Even if times are flush for your business, it’s important to make sure that your existing customers are happy, and that you are paving the way for new ones. But if alienating a client is one of your goals, all I can say is, “I won’t argue with you, but you’re wrong.”

Dr. Sandra Folk, business communications expert and founder of the Language Lab, understands how poor communication affects business and how costly it can be. She specializes in improving the business writing and presentation skills of executives and their employees. Clients from a range of industries include finance, real estate, insurance, engineering, and government. Her unique “practice over time” approach to learning ensures client success. As a published writer in the fields of education and journalism, she has authored textbooks and feature articles in prominent business publications.


What other simple mistakes cause clients to flee? Let us know by commenting below.

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