5 bad behaviors that are wrecking your business (and how to fix them)

There are several factors that can help create a successful business in 2021 and beyond, but there are also certain attitudes that turn customers off, and even send them to competitors.

A basic formula for business success: happy customers = revenue. However, in an increasingly automated and technology-driven world, the task of delighting customers grows more challenging by the day. Especially in a world where more brands saturate the market, and goods and services become commodities. Those companies that get the equation right are rewarded with increased brand loyalty and revenue. Those that fail to meet expectations face customer frustration and attrition.

There are several factors that can help create a successful business in 2021 and beyond, but there are also certain attitudes that turn customers off, and even send them to competitors. Here are five bad company behaviors that are likely to leave your customers cold—and what you can do to reverse course:

Your loyalty program really isn’t rewarding

Done right, a loyalty program can create customer evangelists and boost sales. And there are plenty of examples of companies that nail it. Amazon offers an annual fee for customers to belong to their Prime program in return for unlimited free shipping, media content and other perks. But too many companies fall flat with their programs to reward active customers. “It has to be more than a transactional machine,” states José Reyes, chief creative officer & experience center leader, PwC US.

Clawing back points and dollars—especially during the pandemic is a really bad idea. Yet, many companies continue to engage in this behavior. Remarkably, this includes national restaurant chains that weren’t open for on-premise dining or have highly limited capacity. Another irritant for consumers is reducing loyalty rewards to de facto coupons. For example, a customer earns points or cash but then can’t apply the reward along with promotional code. Suddenly, the reward resembles little more than a disguised discount.

“Businesses create a backlash by treating a loyalty program like it’s a checklist,” says Peter Sheldon, senior director of commerce strategy at Adobe. “In reality, it’s about making people feel special. This may mean offering early access to products, offering cool perks and creating value in other ways. “You have to understand your business and what makes customers tick, and then deliver value to them,” Sheldon says.

The best airline loyalty programs are textbook examples of how to get it right. There are no expiration dates, customers receive seat upgrades, and they can earn and use the points many ways. During the pandemic, airlines even extended customers status levels for up to two years. “You feel highly valued as a customer,” Sheldon adds.

Nothing screams “fail” quite like bad customer support. When a customer encounters a problem and faces a runaround—or worse, no response, things can go downhill fast. They may post the problem on social media and tell friends and family about it, and worse: scoot off to a competitor. On the other hand, “When customer service is structured well it can become a point of empowerment for the company and customers,” Sheldon says.

This means restricting the use of chatbots and knowledge bases to basic tasks, reducing call hold times and bureaucratic layers of phone support that infuriate customers, and allowing reps to issue legitimate refunds and replacements without a hassle. It also means empowering reps to make decisions—based on data and the situation. “A call center is the first line of defense, and it represents the brand. It’s actually a way to build the relationship,” Reyes advises.

The best retailers find ways to demonstrate their commitment to customers beyond point of sale. A starting point is owning and resolving issues. But this may also take the form of a gift card or credit to an account, free merchandise or some other perk. “There’s an interesting psychology associated with appearing generous,” Sheldon says. “When most people receive something unexpectedly, they feel a bit guilty and want to buy more. It increases loyalty.”

The problem is that today’s technology both giveth and taketh; if it’s even slightly out of kilter. Tech can create more distance between a company’s mission statement and actual practices. Famously, Walt Disney and Howard Schultz both spent quality time talking to customers and employees and incorporating their feedback into the business. “Success requires a strong understanding of what a customer’s experience is like,” Reyes says. “A CEO and executives should spend some time in stores or online experiencing exactly what the customer experiences.”

You stay on the sidelines on social issues your customers care about

Only a few years ago, it would have been unheard of for corporations to wade into controversial social issues. Sure, a green initiative was safe and could be a plus, but supporting Colin Kaepernick, Black Lives Matter or equal voting rights was unimaginable for most brands.

“The tide has changed,” Reyes cautions. “Society, and especially young people, identify with companies that share their values about sustainability and social justice.” This corporate reputation and brand affinity can translate into brand loyalty, and it’s a factor in attracting talent and placating shareholders

Remarkably, EY found that 28 percent of the consumers are willing to pay a premium for brands that they trust will do the right things for society, and 40 percent of them view sustainability as being more important than ever, notes Janet Balis, America’s customer and growth market leader and marketing practice leader at EY. Indeed, “Affordability and functionality aren’t the only factors consumers consider when choosing a brand. They are making choices based on brand values,” she says. However, all of this comes with a caveat. “You can’t just say it, you have to do it,” she warns. What’s more, consumers are increasingly examining ethics, sustainability and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria across supply chains and holding companies accountable.

You make it difficult for people to buy your products

It’s no news flash that consumers have more choices than ever and, for better or worse, the internet has trained them to have high expectations and do business on their own terms. Yet, in a world where customer experience (CX) is everything, many companies still operate like it’s 1999. “They actually make it difficult to buy their products,” Sheldon says. “You can’t go online and see if items are in stock or when they will be back in stock. It can be difficult to pay, and you don’t receive prompt notifications when there’s a shipping delay.”

A fundamental problem, Sheldon argues, is that many companies still cling to the notion that online inventory transparency makes them more vulnerable or puts them at a competitive disadvantage. Even many of those that report accurate stock levels online don’t handle sales and fulfilment well. “Few retailers tell you when an item will be back in stock or send you an alert when it’s back in stock.” What these retailers don’t understand, he says, is that “providing this information actually makes consumers feel closer to the brand.”

Other product issues abound. Many websites use low quality images to display what they sell, there’s often poor cross-channel integration, and checkout processes and payments can be cumbersome. Instead of using a one-button service to pay, for example, a person must manually fill in data and enter a credit card number. It’s bad enough on the web, but on a mobile phone it can prove excruciating—and lead to abandoned shopping carts. “If you are losing people at the final phase of a transaction it’s wise to look at data and understand why this is happening,” EY’s Balis explains.

You don’t respect the customers you claim to love

Sure, everyone talks about how much they love their customers. But, really, bombarding them with marketing emails and coupons only shows how much you’d like for them to buy your products—and nothing more. Worse, once you’ve trained them to tune you out, it’s a challenge to reel them back in. Another problem: sending messages to customers at the wrong time. For instance, if someone has an open support ticket and she is trying to resolve an issue, hitting her with a product promotion may be ill-timed. “It’s better to wait until the issue is resolved and they’re in a more positive and receptive mindset, Reyes says.

Personalizing and contextualizing messages is a good start. Yet that’s just one piece of the puzzle. Marketing technology systems (martech) should be smart enough to recognize customer signals. “If someone isn’t opening your emails for weeks or months you don’t turn up the volume and send more. You try to find out why,” Reyes explains. Companies also need to provide more than a basic ‘unsubscribe’ button. “There should be preference options. Some people may love to hear from the company daily, others monthly.”

Understanding where customers are at in the product lifecycle and customizing communications and interactions accordingly is critical, Sheldon says. Analytics and machine learning allow businesses to evolve beyond a set number of personas and view customers relationships in a more granular and real-world way.

In the end, Balis believes that all of these bad behaviors can be rooted out and fixed. “We’re at a remarkable moment where there are extraordinary data signals to understand the entire customer journey.”

Want more on how to improve your company’s CX? Join Adobe Summit 2021. It’s free for everyone. With more than 200 sessions and training workshops across 11 session tracks – you will learn how to make every customer interaction valuable — with experiences that are connected, personal, relevant, and meet rising expectations.