Endangered customer; customer service, Richard Shapiro

8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business

The other day I stopped by Lowe’s to have some keys made. Nice greeting by the clerk at the checkout counter but when I got to Aisle 13 not a soul was in sight. I walked around looking for an associate and, not finding one, I yelled, “Anyone here to make me some keys?”

A head poked up behind a counter in the hardware section revealing a sales person who walked around to the key desk, where I was standing. No hello; no “sorry to keep you waiting.” Another customer soon approached him and asked a question.

My guy just threw up his hands and shrugged. I jokingly told the other customer, “He’s the key man right now.” No smile or acknowledgment from the key maker.

I Think I’ll Shop Elsewhere

I became what Richard Shapiro calls The Endangered Customer in his recent book by that name. The goal of his book, he says, is to “offer a roadmap for continuously creating emotional bonds that generate the very highest levels of customer loyalty.” There’s a hardware store near where I live. They make keys, too. Next time.

Shapiro continues, “Too many companies are reactive only in their customer relationships and often fail to deliver a prompt resolution of service problems they create.”

On a happier note, I’m a repeat customer at Publix, the largest employee-owned grocery chain in the United States that has a virtual lock on the Florida market because of their customer service and community involvement. You enter a store and immediately see a customer service desk.

The baggers always ask if they can help you to your car with your bundles and aren’t allowed to accept tips.

When you can’t find something, an employee will take you to the product and not just vaguely point to the other side of the store.

Publix has a cooking station where each week an employee prepares a company-developed recipe for taste testing. They know customers don’t want to run around the store gathering the ingredients, so they stock them all right behind the chef.

The chef is friendly and engages you in conversation about the dish she’s cooking. Other Publix recipes are displayed in a rack by the station. What a great way to provide customer service while also selling more products.

Shapiro’s Steps to Repeat Business

In his work for some of the biggest retailers, Shapiro has identified what he is convinced are the 8 steps to repeat business:

1 — Coddle Your Customer

The lifetime value of your customer can be lost in one fumbled interaction, says Shapiro, the founder and CEO of The Center for Client Retention (TCFCR). He quotes Jack Mitchell, chairman of Mitchell Family Stores, who says, “It’s more important to know your customers than your merchandise.”

The Endangered Customer model has eight crucial stages, according to Shapiro, in every customer’s journey, from the moment he or she encounters your place of business (in person, by phone, or online) to the time following the purchase, when customer loyalty is put to the test.

2 — Make Me Feel Welcome

Customers want to feel welcome, whether in person or online. They want you to show an interest in them. Ultimately, they want to feel valued. A bad example:

The harried clerk in the children’s department at a famous department store who responded this way to a request for help in buying a gift for a newborn infant: “I’m’ busy right now. Why don’t you look through the merchandise yourself?”

You can’t find a salesman in a store and, unfortunately, automated response systems are now more commonly used to minimize customer expectations for personalized help.

It’s much more welcoming to read a sign that says, “We will be happy to exchange or refund your item within 7 days,” rather than “NO RETURNS AFTER 7 DAYS.”

3 — Give Me Your Full Attention

The best kind of selling reveals the customer’s needs and wants through meaningful dialogue. Giving your full attention requires active listening.” It’s not enough to offer your full attention; your customer must feel it. This applies to in-person interactions as well as phone and email.

In research for a client who wanted to compare his company’s service and support with 20 competitors, TCFCR sent a test email that began, “I just had a baby and I have a question about your product.”

Out of 20 companies that received the email, only one email response contained the line, “Congratulations on your new arrival.” No one paid attention to the new mother’s obvious joy about her newborn.

4 — Answer More Than My Question

It’s important to anticipate the customer’s need for additional information – information their initial question didn’t ask for. We’ve all had the experience of learning too late about a product feature and then kicking ourselves because “I didn’t know the questions to ask.”

In a contact center, a company can train its agents to anticipate then needs of customers and provide additional useful information. However, customers will not ask questions if they aren’t made comfortable in asking.

Millennials, who now outnumber their elders, are all about personalization, says Shapiro. It’s important for companies to hone in on specific product features that will meet their needs, without being asked.

5 — Know Your Stuff

If you go into a pet store, you expect people working there to love animals and know all about them. When walking into a bookstore, you should expect that the owner would hire sales associates that love reading and are knowledgeable about a variety of subjects.

Highly knowledgeable sales reps are more important than ever, as customers can get rudimentary information by searching online. The era of simple answers is over, says Shapiro.

We live in a complex society and it’s essential to size up a customer’s needs and match them with the right service or product offering. Apple’s Genius bar is a prominent example of a company hiring employees who are obsessed and knowledgeable about its products.

6 — Don’t Tell Me “No”

As bad as hearing “no” to your questions the unresponsive “I don’t know” from a customer representative is a close second.

When automated response systems don’t enable a customer to reach a live agent, the company is communicating a message of “no.”

Instead of “no,” tell your customers what you can do, not what you can’t do. Offer solutions to their problems. Listening and acknowledging a customer’s unhappiness is the first step in demonstrating that you care and value the relationship.

7 — Invite Me to Return

Repeat business is the lifeblood of an organization. Even a simple “look forward to seeing you again” leaves the customer with a good feeling.

Make it personal. Shapiro gives the example of a spa owner who always says to every client, “Please come back.” Instead, he suggested she say, “I want to see you again it.” A customer’s feelings of loyalty naturally develop toward a person and not the business.

The “I” showed a personal interest in the customer. Being invited to return makes the customer feel wanted and accepted.

8 — Show Me I Matter

After inviting a customer to return, the next most important step in the customer relationship is reaching out to express your appreciation.

Most companies are on to the next sale and don’t make the effort to thank customers for their business. Shapiro cites the personal email from Uber, car service, after a mix-up in his reservation. He received this message:

“Dear Richard, Did you mean to contact Uber Support? Please reply to this email if there were any issues we need to look into. I’ll be happy to help. Happy Ubering! All the best, Les, Uber Support.”

How much better than the usual letters we receive with the subject line in all caps PLEASE DO NOT RESPOND TO THIS EMAIL. That’s especially galling when the email is to tell us that our order has been delayed.

Fulfilling the Customer’s Journey

Making your customers feel special and expressing your appreciation for their business is so easy to do. Why don’t more companies do it?  I believe it’s partly because too many companies don’t value their employees so why should their employees value their customers?

Companies don’t want to “waste money” investing in training their people to become more knowledgeable about their offerings and how to treat customers.

It’s amazing how much money goes into R&D to develop new products and services and how little money is invested in the creating delightful customer experiences.

What is one of the worst or best customer experiences

you’ve ever had?

Leave a Reply


  1. You are right on with so many of these tips. The worst customer experience I had was at a grocery store. The flyer advertised 1 lb of lean ground beef for $1.97 and 2 lbs for $3.94. When I got to the checkout the clerk told me that only the 2 lb. tubes were on sale. I had the flyer with me and showed her where the 1 lb. was listed (in smaller print) but she refused to give me the sale price. I told her to keep the beef (5 – 1lb packs) and the very next item was cereal – the shelf price showed special for $2.00 – she charged $3.95. I told her that was wrong and it was $2.00. She called someone to check and he came back and said “give it to her for $2.00” which to me sounded like just give it to her at that price so we can get rid of her. I said the price was $2.00 right and he nodded yes. This store belongs to the Scanning Code of Practice and I had a difficult time getting them to honour that. Needless to say I don’t shop there anymore.
    If you’re in a business providing customer service then I demand that you give it to me. If not, I’ll go elsewhere.
    Thanks Jeannette, for this post. I printed it off and actually am going over the policies of my Etsy store to see if I fall down in anyone area. Great stuff.

    • Lenie — I’ve had similar experiences in grocery stores. They will advertise a sale and then don’t enter into the system so that when you get to the cash register it doesn’t record. You have to be really careful and follow the transaction on the register, or check your receipt, to make sure you got the discount. Too often, the amount is wrong. You wonder why these major grocery chains can’t get it right.

  2. When you look at all of these customer service issues, I can’t help think that taken together, from the standpoint of the customer, they make a compelling case for small business: like going to your local hardware store for keys instead of someplace like Lowe’s or Home Depot. I also think that the way you treat your employees is going to impact how they treat your customers. You can spot it right away when the staff is beat down and demoralized. Just fly United Airlines.

    • Ken — agree that how employees behave is a reflection of they are treated and valued. That’s why Costco, which pays its employees well with benefits, is beating out Walmart’s which isn’t known for valuing its employees.

  3. It’s too bad that giving service has, to many people in the West, become something negative. They feel it’s beneath them and for that reason don’t treat customers the way they should be treated.

    Every week I buy hummus from a store owned by Arabs. One of the Middle Eastern guys behind the shelf immeditately when he notices me prepares hummus for me. And it’s not just me but all customers, regardless of what they are buying, who are getting such fantastic service.

    Recently I noticed that he was not behind the counter and it just so happened that the owner walked up. So I asked about the shop’s assistant. Was told he was doing some work behind the scenes which prompted me to praise him and explain what a loss that was to the shop to have someone who creates enormous good will with customers to be out of sight. He should be in positions where he can serve customers in his fantastic way. As a result, the service minded shop’s assistant is now behind the counter again and it’s a delight to go and buy hummus.

    • Catarina — what a wonderful story. I think we’re always quick to complain about service but it’s also important to compliment an employee, too. Possibly the owner didn’t realize how valuable his employee was behind the counter and not hidden away. He might never have known if you didn’t tell him. When I get especially good telephone support, I’ll ask the agent for the name and contact information of his boss and send a note to compliment the employee. Feel it’s the least I can do.

  4. I think the most important thing is treating your customer with respect. This is missing with most huge companies now. They believe THEY are doing a customer a favor by letting them buy their product.
    When you treat anyone with respect, you are connecting with them on a human level. Your customer will now feel connected with you.
    This is not only good business, it is being a good person as well.

    • William — agree that there has to be mutual respect. It’s awful when you get a “back of the hand” when you enter a store — a disinterested or nasty customer service rep. Or when you can’t get a company on the phone and are put through menu hell. That is showing a huge lack of respect for the customer.

  5. Hi Jeannette,

    I think it is very useful post. I hope more sales people read it. Indeed, customer experience still needs to be improved so much in many cases..

    However, I truly agree with your points, especially with on about not saying no, you should always provide alternatives and try to be as helpful as it is possible. Unfortunately, very often I hear – sorry the requested item is not available and that is it

    • Kristina — Offering alternatives not only helps the customer get what s/he wants, but also results in more sales for the store.

  6. This is great stuff Jeannette. During the time no kind of marketing could convince new inquirers ask for my services, I had my previous customers asking for yet another tour!

    Out of all the tips introduced above, I liked No.7 most. Many of us tend to think if everything is alright, they will come back to us, but “invitation” matters.

    • Rahman — how true. Simply thanking people for their business and inviting them to return is so powerful. It makes the customers feel they made the right decision to buy from you and that you appreciate their business.

  7. Hi Jeannette, aren’t Lowe’s and the Home Depot the absolute worst for brick and mortar stores for customer service? It drives me nuts when I go there, wandering aisles trying to find someone, anyone, to help me. And when you finally locate someone he has a line of people waiting to ask questions. If someone wants to know what not to do to make a customer special…just go there. I think they know, when we have big projects, our choices for home improvement stores are limited. Your tips are great. You should send a copy to the local Lowe’s manager. 🙂

    • Susan — They are the worst. I could spend hours recounting my horrible experience with Home Depot when we remodeled our kitchen. That was years ago and I still get mad when I think about it. Retailers don’t want to hire associates in different departments to help customers. They just want people at the cash registers to bring in the money and then there is usually a long line because there isn’t enough staff. Ugh!

  8. I think I’ve done a decent job with many of these points as I’ve grown the number of clients I am working with, though there’s always room for improvement. I’m good at answering more than the question asked, but not in a know-it-all way. I have teaching to thank for that. My worst customer service experience would have to be ordering half a household of rustic pine furniture from the site Furniture.com years ago. They went out of business and my funds were in limbo for months and months. Those were college days when money was tight. Everything finally got worked out, but it was a PAIN to get sorted out. A lot of phone tag ensued. Every time I called, I would get passed off to someone else. That is so annoying. Don’t ask me what I was thinking by ordering that much furniture online. Live and learn. The woman who helped me reset all of my Apple devices when I changed my Apple ID after getting divorced was great and I let her know as much. If only Apple had stated more clearly what to do after changing one’s ID I would not have had to go through such a waste of time. Also, my internet line that runs across my backyard was having issues, but before that was pinpointed as the reason for the trouble, I spent two hours on the phone with a great tech who was kind and patient. That makes all the difference when feeling frustrated when tech won’t work.

    • Jeri — Ugh, that wasn’t a good experience with your furniture but I’m glad it finally worked out for you. I had a similar experience right out of college and in my first apartment. I ordered a wall of shelving and the store went out of business. It took months for the bankruptcy court to assign pending orders to another store. I finally got my shelves but the second store owner treated my like I was a criminal, trying to get something that didn’t belong to me. What a missed opportunity to gain another customer and that was the last time I ever visited the store.

  9. I totally agree. These tips are great. If I don’t like the atmosphere in a store, I don’t return. I worked in customer service in retail when I was a teen and I think it is important for every small business owner to get experience in customer service.

    Recently, I called AAA for roadside assistance. Long story short, I had to cancel. Within a few days, I received a physical letter from them apologizing for not being able to fulfill the request. I thought that was a nice surprise.

    • Sabrina — Small business owners live or die by repeat business. They have an audience that is usually confined to the immediate population around them. Yet, I often find local shop owners to be sorely lacking in good manners. It doesn’t engender a good feeling when you are rushing to pick up your shoes at the shoe repair shop and get there 10 minutes before they close at 5 pm to find they’ve already closed up shop.