Ways to Lose Your Customer


{Header image courtesy NY Photographic, and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.}

Note: as of June 2011, this article will be published in the July 2011 issue of KC Stage Magazine (link no longer active).

It’s an oft-quoted phrase of sales and marketing that it costs 10 times more to get a new customer than to retain an existing one. Whether or not that statistic is right, it does make logical sense that it costs more money to attract the attention of someone who doesn’t know your product than to maintain relations with someone who already is familiar and uses your product.

While the performing arts are definitely different from places like WalMart and McDonalds, as I wrote in The Business of the Arts, in order to continue getting customers (whether you call them ‘subscribers’, ‘members’, or just ‘audience’), a performing arts organization needs to be able to retain existing customers. However, bad customer service can be ways to frustrate current customers to a point where they go away, and as a result are unlikely to come back.

While the things I’m going to suggest below may seem self-explanatory, I have had it happen at least once (if not multiple times): some by for-profit businesses, but most by arts organizations.

Tablet computer showing the words 'customer service'
Image courtesy NY Photographic, and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

Maintain an accurate mailing list.

“Fiedler” is a difficult name to spell (and even harder to pronounce for some). I understand that, and have been dealing with that ever since I was old enough to know I have a last name. So, I understand if I get the occasional piece with it misspelled. Heck, even if it wasn’t, I’ve made the occasional typo myself in the various databases I maintain, and so I try to be understanding at typos.

What I don’t understand, however, is that I’ve reached out a number of times (to a number of places) to get the correct spelling, and almost inevitably I continue receiving mailings with it misspelled. While I know it sometimes takes a little bit to get the request through, at the same time it should be changed within a month: no exceptions. If I continue to get it misspelled (and in one particular case after repeated requests to change it), I am less likely to support that business. After all, it’s obvious that you’re more interested in my instant money than in my continued loyalty.

A stick figure with the @ symbol.
Image via Pixabay and used under a CC0 Public Domain license.

Related but slightly different are requests to be removed from the mailing list. In today’s day and age of both internet-savvy technology and a desire to reduce my carbon footprint, I’ve made repeated requests to be removed from various snail mail mailing lists. I’m especially interested to be removed if the organization operates an email list or regularly posts their information to KC Stage (with both my KC Stage email and my personal email connected to the KC Stage discussion list, I have more than enough chance to see it). As with above, I can understand it not happening instantly — especially in the world of community theatre, where everyone is a volunteer. However, there was one specific case to where I made repeated requests, was told each time that I would be removed from the snail mail list (where, by the way, my name was misspelled), and I continued to receive it more than three months later. I finally had to go to a board member and request to be removed, and by this point my desire to support said organization was very little as I felt a rather simple request had taken on dimensions where I had to feel like I had to be the proverbial squeaky wheel to get any kind of attention at all.

Another aspect of the accurate mailing list is the privacy of said list. With the “Do Not Mail” and CAN-SPAM acts, this is actually not just good customer service but potential legal-savvy as well. While most organizations guard their mailing lists like they’re the secret recipe for KFC, I know of at least one time where I started getting snail mail items from an organization that I did not sign up for. I make a committed effort to switch my name (going by Angie Fiedler Sutton vs. Angie Sutton) and my mailing address around on different items for this exact reason: I know which organization was most likely to have provided the information because of how my mailing address was formatted. It not only made me less likely to support the new organization (as nowhere on said marketing piece was it indicated that this was just a way to see if I was interested, and if I was that I needed to do such and such), but even less likely to support the organization I know provided the information.

An image of dollar bills with Scrabble letters spelling out 'money' on top.
Photo by 401(K) 2012 and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, via Flickr.

Don’t use high-priced requests for money.

As someone who’s done publicity for a few organizations myself, I know the desire to make marketing materials look good. And as a customer myself, I understand that I’m possibly more likely to open something eye-catching (although there is just as much chance that I’m going to see that ‘slickness’ as evidence of unsolicited junk mail, too). However, think twice before making your annual plea for funds too ‘nice’. I remember receiving an item in the mail for a fundraiser for an organization that was so obviously created by a professional advertising agency that I had to stop and ask myself where my fundraising donation would truly go. How desperate are they really for money, if they can spend this kind of cash on the plea itself? You can scale it down and still make it look nice: use two colors instead of four in an outstanding way; maintain a separate email list and give the option to receive notices via email; combining items so there’s less mail overall in a year; etc. If the advertising agency donated part or all of their time, make sure that’s indicated somewhere.

Related is the lowest amount for said donations. Getting people to donate money is tough, especially in today’s economy. But there’s been at least three charities I have been willing to donate to their cause, but when I got to the website have been turned away because the lowest amount was out of my budget ($50 typically, but in one case it was $25 and in one rare case the minimum listed was $100). I know that online donation systems cost money, and it might not be cost effective to offer a $5 or $10 donation online, but at least have a note with a name and an address to mail in a donation if someone wants to donate less than that. I would also recommend having a link to any volunteering options that are available, as I’d be willing to donate time in lieu of money.

A word cloud of the different languages saying 'thank you'.
Image by Ashashyou and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license, via via Wikimedia Commons.

The power of thanks.

I’ve been to a fast food restaurant and when I placed my order, the person took my money and immediately went on to the next person. While the lack of a ‘thank you’ wasn’t a deal-breaker for me, it did place the seed of discontent in my head. When it happened at that location multiple times, that seed grew to where, while I haven’t stopped going to that brand of fast food restaurant, I have stopped going to that specific location.

For community arts organizations, the power of thank you is especially relevant and on multiple levels. After all, their customers aren’t just the people attending the events, but those that are in the event and behind the scenes planning it. A simple ‘thank you’ — for attending, for donating, for volunteering — is a way to continue that relationship and help that person decide to come back.

A document with the words 'Customer service' highlighted in green.
Image courtesy NY Photographic, and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

In conclusion . . . .

This is by no means a complete list of ways to lose a customer: this is just ones I’ve seen repeated times. I’m sure everyone has things that organizations have done that have made you decide to no longer patronize them. So, tell me your stories: email me your bad customer service pet peeves (preferably ones that are either directly related to a performing arts organization — names can be eliminated for privacy — or can at least be linked to how an arts organization operates).