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Customers: Love ‘Em or You’ll Lose ‘Em

By Michael Bergdahl, author and business consultant

Isn’t it ironic that it takes years to build a great customer relationship, but only moments to tear one apart? Below are several of the most common customer service mistakes companies make. The good news is that each of the following errors can be fixed. In fact, many of the suggestions below will make your relationships even stronger.


Customers get upset when a company makes promises that aren’t fulfilled. This has been referred to as “over-promising and under-delivering.” Teach your customer service team, “A promise we make is a promise we intend to keep—each and every time.” When someone on your team makes a commitment to one of your customers, your store must stand behind that commitment, even when it costs your store money. When you treat your customers poorly, you are driving business to your competitors.

Fix It: The key to preventing and fixing this problem is fostering open communication in your operation so if an employee who doesn’t have the authority promises a customer something he can’t deliver, then he isn’t afraid to tell management. If he thinks he will get reprimanded, the store may never deliver on that promise and lose a customer.


We have all experienced the frustration of contacting a company by phone or in person regarding a complaint and then being transferred from one unhelpful person to another. “Customer shuffling,” as it is named, is a poor customer service practice the employees in some stores use to avoid taking responsibility for dealing with a customer’s problem.

Fix It: Train your employees through internal programs such as those offered by NRHA and set up a mentor program to help employees learn from your best staff members. Employees who are empowered to solve customer-related problems on the spot are not only engaged in the welfare of your business, but also tend to stay with the company longer.


We have all dealt with customer service associates who project the attitude that “It’s not my problem.” This approach really makes customers angry. With the service gap closing between big boxes and independent home improvement stores, there is no room for this kind of mistake. Remember your staff only gets one chance to make a first impression on your store’s customers, so always make sure it a good one.

Fix It: Have a procedure in place describing what your customer service team should do when a customer is unhappy or irate. Establish standards for service and write them down. Some companies even require their employees to sign that they have read and agree with the standards. Or try role playing different scenarios with your team, so they understand the proper way to address problems in the future.


Some customer service associates don’t know how to calm down and satisfy disgruntled customers. Do your store’s employees know how to diffuse situations?

Fix It: Show me a home improvement store where the service team knows how to take care of unhappy customers, and I’ll guarantee you it’s a store where management has trained the staff well. Incorporate some basic conflict resolution tactics into your customer service training. With ongoing training, your team will be ready to address any customer-related concerns as soon as they happen.


You can’t always solve every customer-related problem in a matter of minutes. Let’s face it; there are times when you do need to research the problem and get back to the customer at a later time. Failure to respond to a customer is like telling him his business is not important to you.

Fix It: If you are going to be delayed in responding, let the customer know and provide updates as soon as you have them. Teach your store’s team how important it is to always live up to their commitments to your customers and to one another, and practice team-building exercises so employees are more apt to go to each other for help when they may not personally know the answer to a customer’s question.


People in customer service-related jobs simply cannot afford to have a bad day. One hundred percent of the time, your store team needs to project a positive, helpful attitude; there’s no other choice. You must respect your customers’ points of view and avoid the temptation to argue, because you can’t win an argument without alienating a customer.

Fix It: While it may sound cliché, the old adage “The customer is always right,” still applies. Create good outcomes for your customers so they always leave feeling good about their shopping experience. Remember, giving the customer a dollar here or there to keep them as loyal customers does pay off in the end. A good way to deal with frustrating customers is to take a step away from the situation for a few minutes or to ask for another team member’s assistance who may be better equipped to deal with the situation.


No matter how hard they try, your employees aren’t going to be able to satisfy every customer. When this happens, teach your staff to get a manager involved in a discussion with that customer immediately. Sometimes the process of simply listening to the customer and letting him vent his concerns seems to extinguish the size of the original problem. In rare cases, even the manager’s conversation with the customer may also end at an impasse.

Fix It: Give your employees the ability to offer discounts or freebies to help them negotiate, and encourage your team to do its best to end discussions on positive notes, even if that means acknowledging the fact that you “agree to disagree.”


Don’t forget your customers can choose to walk away from your business in favor of spending their money at your competitors’ stores. Think about that for just a moment—in fact, you should think about that every day. What are you doing to make your customers want to continue doing business with you? Are you providing a compelling reason for why your customers should continue doing business with you?

Fix It: Create a service culture in your operation that is so strong and positive that it sets your store apart from all of your competitors. Remember that your customers are the lifeblood of your business, so find ways to differentiate your store, whether it’s through assortment planning, promotions or customer service, to provide a shopping experience customers can’t get anywhere else.


Customers have more options for purchasing products and services than they have ever had before. Nearly everyone has Internet access, and they use it to compare products and services.

Fix It: You should make it a practice to study the competition. Compare their pricing structures for products and services to your own. Customers don’t mind purchasing from a business for a fair price, but remember the market will dictate what you can reasonably expect to charge for your products and services.


Does your store provide a 100-percent money-back product guarantee with no questions asked? If it does, that means a customer can return a product for a good reason, bad reason or no reason at all. And if you don’t, you should. Your customers will learn more about your store when they return a product than they did when they made their original purchase if they have a positive return experience.

Fix It: Make it a quick, easy, painless, and even pleasant experience. Having a “no-hassle” return policy is important because it gives your customers complete confidence when purchasing products from your store. 

bergdahl-headshotMichael Bergdahl (SPHR) is a professional international business speaker, author and business specialist. Bergdahl worked in Bentonville, Ark., for Walmart, as the Director of “People” for the headquarters office, where he worked directly with Walmart’s founder Sam Walton. Bergdahl is the moderator of two LinkedIn discussion groups called, “Walmart’s Best Practices – Super Group” and “Sam Walton’s Best Practices” with more than 10,000 worldwide members including retailers, human resources professionals, product manufacturers/suppliers, and supply chain professionals. 

About Amanda Bell

Amanda Bell was an assistant editor of Hardware Retailing and NRHA. Amanda regularly visited with home improvement retailers across the country and attended industry events and seminars. She earned a degree in magazine journalism from Ball State University and has received honors for her work for Hardware Retailing from the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals.

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