‘I Hate Your Customer Service (But I’ll Never Tell You That)’

When a customer complains to you about your customer service or another aspect of your operation, think of it as catching a lucky break, even though it doesn’t feel that way. I know it’s uncomfortable to hear a customer complain, to know that you’ve given that customer a reason to complain, but there’s cause to be grateful when a customer shares their dissatisfaction with you. You now have a chance to learn from their feedback for the sake of this customer, future customers, and the continued health of your business.

Unfortunately, most customers don’t complain, particularly if the offense in question isn’t egregious, and if complaining about it would run the risk of sounding petty. Yet, minor irritants and customer dissatisfiers do have power to compel a customer to seek a better experience elsewhere–without ever telling you, the business owner, why.

Here are seven reasons that customers become dissatisfied with a company’s customer service or customer experience; complaints that they’re unlikely to share with you–before walking away and not coming back.

1. Your customer service is fine in the middle, but poor at the beginning or the ending. There are three stages to serving a customer: the opening of service, the actual provision of service, and the closing of service. It’s easy to fail to see beyond the middle part—the part that, technically speaking, you’re being paid to do—to the detriment of the other two.

The problem with this is that the beginning and ending of a service encounter are particularly likely to linger in a customer’s memory, due to the way that our brains work. Which means that when a receptionist ignores a customer at that brief but all-important moment when they first walk in, or, after the sale is completed, if a salesperson fails to thank a customer for their purchase and walk them back to the door, it can diminish the goodwill that was generated by your actual provision of the service or product for which the customer paid.

2. Your pacing is off. Speed of service is important, but tricky to get right. It’s important to vary your service by customer, to not attend to a casual, leisurely tourist in the same way you provide service to a time-stressed businessperson. In fact, you can’t automatically pace your service for any particular customer the same way you paced it the last time you served this very same customer; maybe they were in a rush last time, but have time to linger today. Or vice versa.

3. It takes too much effort to do business with you. This is a biggie, and solving it involves multiple disciplines, including, I would suggest, a UX (user experience) review of your web and mobile presence. In particularly, I suggest you make sure you’re not frustrating customers by requiring them to contact you for what I call Stupid Stuff™ that should be available on a self-service basis. Keep your FAQs and other public sources of information up to date–and, ideally, crowdsourced (Note in this article of mine how Adobe crowdsources their FAQ answers.)

4. Your employees exude indifference or exhibit incompetence. One employee can kill your business in the eye of a particular customer (or multiple customers) and you won’t even know about it when it happens. This could be a new and untrained employee who can’t answer questions about your product, or who is ill-equipped to handle customer problems. It may be a long-term employee who carries on a personal conversation with another employee while not acknowledging a customer’s existence in front of them. It may even be you when you yourself fail to promptly respond to an email or phone call from a long-time customer.

5. Your returns and exchanges procedures aren’t easy, or don’t seem fair. It should be just as easy to return your product as it is to buy it. If you make it difficult, you can guarantee the customer is saying to him or herself “never again” on the way out the door.

6. You didn’t live up to a promise. When an employee opens the store later than the posted time or closes it before–even if it’s minutes before–the stated time, this feels like a broken promise to your customers. Likewise failing to have a realistic quantity of an item that’s on your menu, or an item that you’ve put on sale.

7. You failed to respond to a customer’s survey response or social media message. If you’re going to ask a customer to fill out a survey, be sure to get back to them when they do! After all, they took the time to give you information that you told them you cared about, so give them the courtesy of a personal, sincere, and timely response to any specific comments they share. Likewise with social media: If someone posts a comment, be sure to respond to them, quickly and in an unscripted and thoughtful manner. It’s called “social” media for a reason.

Credit where credit’s due: Bill Quiseng, a fellow customer service thought leader whom you should be following at @billquiseng, assisted me with many of the ideas in this article–Micah

This article was originally published at Forbes.