Customer Retention Strategies: Are You Welcoming Customers or Scaring Them Away?

Yesterday, I went to my “remote” office, a local coffee shop (part of a chain) that offers free Wi-Fi. I go quite a bit, usually at 2:00 in the afternoon and stay for three hours (the place closes at 6:00). I always buy something (e.g., coffee, at the very least), and I make sure I’m not monopolizing tables (I’m often the only one there). Sometimes, I’ll buy a Caesar salad on my way home if I don’t feel like cooking (hahaha — me cooking; that’s a joke). That was my plan yesterday. “Was” being the operative word.

The last few times I’ve gone to my remote office, I felt I was intruding on — even bothering — the workers. Yesterday was no exception. In fact, it was worse. I ordered a hot coffee and bagel, but there was no hot coffee (I mentioned it was a coffee shop, right?). The girl said she’d have to brew it and that it would take a few minutes. I told her I didn’t mind. Slightly exasperated, she grabbed one of her underlings and asked him to make the coffee. His confused expression suggested to me that he hadn’t done this particular task too often (and the fact I found coffee grounds floating in my beverage confirmed my suspicions). So I went off with my bagel and waited for the coffee to brew.

After five minutes or so, I went up to the counter to see if it was ready. But the girl who’d taken my order and the guy who’d made the coffee were nowhere to be found. Another girl was there, and I explained that I’d already paid, blah, blah, blah. She gave me my coffee. I went to put in some half-and-half, and the metal jug that’s usually on the condiment counter was missing (during my last three visits, the jug has been empty). I looked for one of the employees, but they were all out back, so I used milk instead. This particular condiment counter has two holes for trash — or for people like me who need to drain some of the coffee to make room for cream — but yesterday, the napkin dispensers covered them up. You wouldn’t know these holes for trash were even there. It was as if these three things — no coffee, no cream, no place for trash — were subtle hints, ones that rang through loud and clear: I was not wanted. (I mentioned it was four hours before closing, right?)

As the afternoon wore on, it became clear to me that a state inspection was looming, given one girl’s excessive scrubbing of the baseboards (ah, I remember my days in food service when I was in high school and I was charged with this task). There were at least four workers in the store, cleaning and counting and sorting. I don’t begrudge them this — I know inspections can be stressful. However, I felt like an intruder the whole time. And what’s more is that I’ve felt this way during my last few visits.

They cleaned around me and my table — I offered several times to get up and move so they could clean my particular area, but they said no. Still, a woman can tell when she’s not wanted. So around five, I started cleaning up my stuff, debating the whole time whether I should order the Caesar salad I had planned on buying three hours ago. I decided against it — it felt like I’d be bothering them.

Let’s think about this: this shop lost a sale — a sale that was “a given” — all because of the way I felt in the store. Yes, it was my perception of the situation. But my perception was my reality.

So ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you making your clients/customers feel welcome? How do you know? What are you specifically doing to address this?
  • Does your body language betray you (e.g. do your shoulders sag or does your back arch when you’re asked to do something)?
  • Are you impatient with people on the phone?
  • Do you sigh when talking to customers or sound breathless and in “hurry up” mode?
  • Do you say “thank you” in a genuine tone?
  • Do you make eye contact?
  • Do you anticipate your customers’ needs?
  • Do you go beyond the basics that your job requires?
  • Hell, are you even covering the basics?

Don’t take this for granted. How many sales are you losing (or winning) based simply on the way you treat people?

As for me, well let’s just say this: I’m glad Starbucks is now instituting free Wi-Fi in its stores.