Maybe its because we each grew up in family businesses, but Steve and I are pretty fanatical when it comes to customer service. Perhaps when your family's livelihood is directly tied to customers coming back, you pay more attention to how you interact with them. And if that's what you learned coming up, it tends to be something you carry with you for the rest of your career. I've heard more than one HR manager say that like those who served in the military, those who come from family-owned businesses generally make excellent employees.

Though I'm trying to focus more on rewarding good behavior than punishing bad in the models I use, sometimes the gods send something my way that's too bad not to share. Case in point, the following interaction between me and a local lawn-care service. It's a textbook case of how to lose a customer:

Michael --
Thanks for doing such a nice job on our front yard. We'd like to have you back! Would it be possible for you to come this week and again on July 1 or 2? Also, would it be possible for you to rake up the clippings and put them in our yard waste bin? If so, let me know what the cost of that will be. If we had actual grass, I'd leave the stuff alone, but the weeds just reseed themselves and it gets kind of out of hand! Please let me know what's workable.


Hi Margot,
I will come and mow the next time that I do your neighbor's lawn, which should be later this week or perhaps this weekend. As for July, it may be more difficult to schedule right now due to the holiday and my obligations to contracted customers. I will keep you posted and the date gets nearer.

Wow. This guy makes it sound like he's doing me a favor and will get to my yard when it's convenient for him. But the really crappy part is the second sentence. Talk about blowing an opportunity! If contract-holders get first priority (and they should), why not try to upsell me to a contract? I'm clearly a satisfied customer, so I'm a high-percentage sale. But instead of asking for the business, he further insults me. Needless to say, I wrote him back and told him we'd find another solution. His work was great. And he's got all the green lawncare chops I value. But his customer service is so inadequate that despite all that, I'm not coming back.

Actually, I just got one of those good models. While I was writing this, I got a note from Rachel Leber, a local real estate agent who helped us sell my mother's condo asking for a Linkedin recommendation. When we were consumed with my mom's sudden death and all the competing priorities that came with it, Rachel came to our rescue on the condo-selling. She took care of a ton of details, helped us find service providers, and even took some stuff to the Habitat for Humanity Hand Me Up store for us. That's service!

Now, we aren't in the habit of selling homes, so it's not like we personally will be using Rachel a lot. But you better believe when someone asks us for a good broker, she's the only name we give out! And when she was smart enough to ask for a testimonial, I wrote one for her web site. Additionally, whenever a reporter friend is looking for agents to interview, I pass along Rachel's digits.

How's your customer service? Are you missing opportunities to up-sell or lock in recurring business? Could you be inadvertently turning off potential customers? For the rest of this week, take a closer look at how you and your team interact with clients. Heck, you might even ask a few of them what they think. Take the information you get and hone your activities to a sharper edge. Your customers and your bottom line will reward you for it!