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How to Lose a Life-Long Customer in 15 Minutes


A couple months ago, I walked into my neighborhood Home Depot with no idea that it would be the last time I entered as a loyal customer. Any time I needed something for my home over the last 19 years, whether it was a new light bulb or some wood for a new project, I bought it from Home Depot. I even had a Home Depot credit card, which was one of the only company-specific credit cards I’ve ever owned. If I had to buy something and they sold it, that’s where I wanted to buy it.

I was in the market for a new freezer to put in my garage, something just big enough to alleviate the stress on my kitchen’s too-small freezer. If you have more than three people living in your house, you’ll understand what I mean. I’d done my research, looking up which brands had the best reviews and picking one that fit my budget. The chest I ended up choosing was available at Home Depot, but was nearly $100 cheaper somewhere else. I knew the home improvement store had a price match guarantee, so I printed out the page with the lower price, ordered dinner online for my family (knowing this would be a quick trip to Home Depot, dinner should be ready for pick up).

"Between feeling ignored and given the runaround, it seemed like they didn’t care about me at all."

What I was welcomed with when I arrived, though, was not a customer-friendly experience. The man who first helped me said that he couldn’t authorize a price match, only managers could do that. So he picked up the phone and called for a manager. Six or eight minutes later, no manager. I told the clerk I needed to move this along, as dinner should be ready to pick up soon. So then he physically left to find a manager, which took another 10 minutes—much longer than it should have since it was late and the store was nearly empty. When he finally returned, he said the manager needed him to pull up the lower price on their own computers for verification, and then the manager would come to approve it.

At this point, the whole process, which should have taken about 5 or 10 minutes, had lasted over half an hour, and my family’s dinner was getting cold sitting at the restaurant, waiting to get picked up. Totally frustrated and more than a little disappointed in the company known for giving better than average service, I told the clerk not to worry about it and walked out. As I drove home, I realized that I wasn’t going to commit to giving Home Depot as much business as I could anymore. From then on, they were just another store, shuffled back into the fray with Lowes and Ace and all the other hardware stores I could shop at.

When I got home, it took me less than 5 minutes to place the order online with Home Depot’s competitor, and I cut my Home Depot card in half.

It might not seem like a big issue, but let me assure you that it felt terrible to experience it. Between feeling ignored and given the runaround, it seemed like they didn’t care about me at all. It felt like, so long as the employees clocked in and got their paycheck, the customers and their experience didn’t matter at all.

"Showing even a little interest in your customers and their experience is all it takes."

All of this is to say that it only takes one bad experience to turn a long-time customer into a lost prospect. Customer service is one of the most important building blocks of your business, and it’s one that relies entirely on your staff. They should understand that they’re the face of your business for every person they interact with. Something as simple as a friendly greeting and a smile can make all the difference to your customers.

Waiting half an hour to get a price check might have been a whole other experience for me had the first person who helped me seemed a little more interested in helping me, or even checked back with me every now and then as he spent 15 minutes finding a manager. Showing even a little interest in your customers and their experience is all it takes.

On impulse, I shared this story with our employees the next day in one of our “All Hands” meetings, which we hold every 2 weeks. It’s easy as a business owner to know how important good customer service is, but it can be tricky to make sure the caring spirit carries all the way to the employees who are actually interacting with prospects and customers on a regular basis.

When myself or anyone on our management team comes across a customer service shortfall, we do our best to address it quickly and use it as a learning experience for the rest of the company. We also do our best to highlight any shining examples of excellent customer interactions, which are usually brought to our attention from customers who either leave a review or send us a follow up email.

Until next time,


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