The Real Reason Customers Leave

I put the phone down and thought about what he had just told me. He said, “our last supplier became complacent. Their heart wasn’t in it”.

I was conducting a customer survey for one of my clients. This was a respondent’s answer to the question: Why did you choose [my client]?

He gave insightful reasons for choosing my client, which will help in the development of their customer value proposition. But it was his remark about their previous supplier “becoming complacent” that really struck me.

Customers will tell you that it was poor performance on price, service or quality for why they left you. However, if you dive deeper into these reasons you will find that supplier complacency is the real culprit. With price, it’s being unaware of competitive offers. For service, it’s switching onto ‘autopilot’ mode. And for quality, it’s failing to improve your product.

Complacency is the root cause for supplier underperformance and the real reason for why customers leave.

Psychologists estimate that as much as 90% of our day-to-day behaviour occurs without conscious or deliberate thought. Our brains are wired to automate repetitive tasks. Even repeated exposure to situations, such as customer interactions, dulls our awareness to new or threatening forces. This is why complacency is at the heart of many customer defections. We get comfortable and satisfied with how things are going with our customers. Yet, we end up losing the proactive, competitive edge that got us their business in the first place.

If complacency is a naturally occurring, yet dangerous, behaviour then we need to find ways to identify and prevent it.

Beware of shortcuts

One way to recognise you might be on ‘autopilot’ is when you start taking shortcuts to get your work completed. Cutting corners to finish a job is a tell-tale sign that you are no longer giving your best.

You’ll also know you’re not giving 100% when you hear that little voice inside you say, ‘that’ll do’. Unfortunately, it won’t… at least not in the long run. And you should want to retain your customers for the long term because it’s the easiest, quickest, and least expensive way to grow your business.

Small things make a difference

Going the extra mile for your customer is another way to keep complacency at bay.

For example, one of my customer’s phoned me to ask if I could get an already fast-tracked project delivered to them two days earlier. I told her I would do my best, but could not promise it would be ready in time. Then I got to work. I phoned my supply partners and let them know the customer’s request. With a lot of hustle, we completed the project and delivered it two days earlier than originally planned.

It might not sound like such a big deal… delivering two days earlier, but it certainly curbed any chance that I might become complacent.

First, the customer created a sense of urgency with the request. This kept me on my toes, and resulted in a tweak to the way we develop marketing materials. Secondly, I made a customer delighted with our service. This means repeat business and referrals – two things I love (and that motivate me). Finally, there is nothing more rewarding that helping someone who truly needs, and appreciates, your help… even if it is something as small as delivering early.

Doing the small things for your customer takes you out of your comfort zone and breaks up your daily routine. Both breeding grounds for complacent behaviour. For instance, I worked on a Sunday with a customer to complete a proposal due the following Monday morning. We both gave up quality family time to give this tender everything we had.

There are thousands of little things you can do to prevent complacency from taking root in your customer relationships.

  • Hand deliver the report instead of emailing it.
  • Pick up the phone and call a customer you have not spoken to in the last three months and invite them to lunch (you might be surprised what you discover)
  • Handwrite a personal ‘thank you’ note and send it to your customer in the post.

No matter how small you might think the favour is, your customer will appreciate it, and know you care. When you go out of your way to help a customer – only good can come from it.

Clear eyes, full heart

I’m lucky. I enjoy conducting surveys to uncover new insights for my customers. And what I learned from this particular respondent was quite meaningful. It’s complacency that drives customers away. Lack of service, poor quality and uncompetitive pricing are merely symptoms of this lackadaisical behaviour.

The trouble is complacency is a natural state of being, albeit a negative one. We all become complacent at one point or another. Therefore, the challenge is to recognise it and do something about it.

I keep complacency in check by recognising an early warning signal: taking shortcuts. And to prevent complacency from affecting my customer relationships, I focus on going the extra mile for them and doing the ‘small things’ that show I care.

There will always be a competitor knocking on your customer’s door. Don’t give them the opportunity to open it because your heart is not in it.

Thank you for reading this post. I hope you take something away from it that you can apply in your own work.

You might also like to read, Industrial Marketers Unleash the Emotion and The Four Agreements: Life Lessons for Marketers.

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