In my 40 plus years of business study, I’ve come across some common mistakes that make me scratch my head and really question the decision makers of well known companies and industries. These are not just mistakes that are common to the Gallatin Valley. These are coast-to-coast mistakes that are totally unnecessary, yet happen on a daily basis, and in some instances, cost small businesses thousands of dollars in lost revenue and reduce customer confidence.

Ignoring Your Customers:

This is one of my major pet peeves. I show up at the grocery store checkout line, pile my purchases on the conveyor belt, and the cashier dutifully scans each item and usually asks if I found everything I was looking for. Up to this point I would agree that the cashier has done his or her job. Here’s where the service ends and the problem begins.

I get my total and begin writing my check or using my debit card. While doing this, the cashier and bag person decide that this is an ideal time to discuss what time they get off work, or their weekend plans. I, of course, am not included in this little exchange and when my sizable check is finally written I wonder if I should interrupt the conversation to complete my purchase.

While I am always courteously thanked for my business, I’m not sure how valuable I feel as a customer. If this were an isolated case, I would simply shop elsewhere. But it seems to be a nationwide practice at every grocery store. If I had any pull in the grocery industry - this would be grounds for termination. The customer deserves better, have personal conversations when the line is empty or save them for your break.

Opening the business on time.

This one really drives me crazy. I need something, I look up the hours online or in an ad and when I arrive the person opening the store is late. The sign in the window says, “Open at 9 daily.” So at 9:05, or 9:10, or later, someone very apologetic finally arrives to open up. This is another common practice that just shows a blatant disregard for the customer. If you say you open at nine, be there at whatever time you need to be for that to happen. I bet you have no problems closing exactly on time or even a few minutes early.

Employees clueless about company ads:

Has this ever happened to you? You see an ad for something you need that’s on sale. You drive down to the business and the salesperson has no clue what you’re talking about. They had no idea the item was on sale, it may not even be marked down yet, or if you get there later in the day, they didn’t order enough and are out of it. Once again the reputation of the businesses professionalism is tarnished in the eyes of a possible repeat customer. A short sales meeting and the posting of all sales ads in the break room could make this scenario go much smoother and result in a happy customer.

Negative Signage:

Too many business owners feel the need to let customers know right off the bat how hard it’s going to be to do business with them. “Restocking Fee 25% on All RETURNS,” or “$30 charge on ALL RETURNED CHECKS.” Sometimes you can’t see the products for all the negative signs. “No returns without a receipt.”

This is just lazy business in my opinion. Train your employees to explain your policies and procedures in a clear manner that customers can understand. Communicating the same verbiage, over and over, all day long, is not fun but it sure gives a better impression that each customer is important to the business than being visually assaulted by a wall of negatives before you are even greeted.

Are all these signs really necessary? Or do you just have an unconfirmed fear that customers are out to get you and your only defense is more and more signage. Heaven forbid you might actually have to communicate with your customers. Why bother when you can just point to whatever policy they’ve violated.

Some Final Thoughts

You might think I’m being a little “nit picky.” Cut the grocery guys some slack, it’s not always easy to be on time every day, so I forgot to tell them about the ad, and I need those signs to make sure I don’t have a bunch of extra costs to eat. I can sum all those excuses up in one simple word, "LAZY."

But what if the businesses you frequent didn’t do these things? What if they did pay attention to you? What if they did open on time? Would you feel more confident about the business? Would you find it easier to recommend them?

If you’re a business owner, look more closely at things you could be doing better. In this economy, every customer is critical. If you’re a customer, and you've experienced any of these problems, print this article, and drop it off at your former business and let the owner know they have some work to do. Business owners want to know if they are dropping the ball. They should thank you for letting them know. If they don't, maybe they, not the employees, are the problem. Better business benefits everyone.

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