This article in this morning's USATODAY (Tightrope: Want new business? Keep your old clients happy) couldn't have come at a better time. Yesterday was one of those bad customer service days. In all cases, the people providing the craptastic service were businesses I already patronized -- and even liked!

The tipping point

But when my "customer advocate" at our bulk email provider called from an unidentified toll-free number, opened with a kind-of insult and then got snotty when I said it was a bad time, there were several moments where I didn't like them so much that I considered moving my business to someone else.

Mind you, I've never had one whit of trouble from the service itself. I've interviewed the founder a couple times and like him. But one customer service dude with a used-car salesman voice and an aggressive bent risked my business. I ended up not skipping out because  it's a local company and  I believe most of the people there are good folks. But one more call like that and it's that one bad apple that will spoil the whole bunch, girl.

Your second sales force

Not only do you want to hold on to every good customer in bad economic times for financial reasons, but these folks are your best and cheapest sales force. Pissing somebody like me off isn't doing you any favors even if I do elect to continue doing business with you. Because I probably will think twice before telling anyone to sign up with you. Or, as in the case here and with our replacement windows provider, I might recommend your company but tell my friends to beware of a particular sales or "customer advocate" person. That still doesn't look so great for you.

What are you doing (or not)?

What are you doing to keep the customers you have -- and keep them happy? Are you sure your customer-contact employees are representing your company well? The answers to these questions will tell you a lot about why your business is faring the way it is.

And if you don't like the answers you're getting, do something about it. Talk to your team about how keeping customers happy is a vital part of keeping us all employed. About how happy customers beget other customers. Find out why things are breaking down and how you can empower your folks to do (and want to do) better. And enable your team to get the training (and downtime) they need to be focused on the people they're interacting with and what they need.