How Do You Know When Your Customers Are Starting to Stray?

Putnam County Route 12 - New YorkMost businesses tend to focus their efforts on growing along a single dimension: acquisition. Good ones take it step further and focus on “service recovery,” making every attempt to retain a customer’s business after something has gone horribly wrong.

Great businesses recognize and actively work a third dimension by paying attention to those cues that indicate their customer is becoming disinterested. When these leading indicators start to show in the customer relationship, great businesses recognize it and begin cultivating the relationship once again to make sure an event never takes place that requires “service recovery.”

So, how do you know when your customers are starting to stray? A recent dining experience with my family is the perfect example.

My family traveled to another town last weekend for my daughter’s basketball tournament, and with time on our hands before tip-off, we decided to grab a bite to eat. I found a few restaurants in the area using the iPhone app Around Me and picked one based on the menu and reviews.

We were initially happy with our selection. The place was clean, had a nice atmosphere, and a great menu. The restaurant was packed, which is always a good sign. But our initial enthusiasm slowly gave way toward indifference when every “leading indicator” I presented went unnoticed.

What were those cues?

  • The first was little or unclear direction from my “coach” — in this case, our waitress, on the product. I was torn between two entrées, and when I pressed for information and a recommendation on each I got a very tepid, non-committal response. The waitress couldn’t speak to either product, probe with any questions around why I picked those two, and basically left me with little to use as the basis of my selection.
  • The second cue was the most obvious: disengagement with the product. The entrée I selected was not good. I made that clear by leaving the plate of food virtually untouched. Strike two was when I declined another drink, and strike three (you’re out!) was when the waitress picked up the nearly full plate at the end of the meal and asked the standard, “Was everything okay?” question to all of us. Recognizing disengagement with the product and proactively saying, “You didn’t seem to enjoy the entrée. Can I ask why?” would have been the right thing to do.

The customer lifecycle can be measured in years, months, or in some cases, in just a matter of hours. Not recognizing the warning signs can result in lost business and unfavorable word of mouth feedback. Recognizing those leading indicators and taking immediate action to put a customer back on the “happy path” are just as important to business growth as acquisition and service recovery.

Are your customers starting to stray? How would you recognize that and what actions would you/should you take?  Share your thoughts!

With twenty-plus years working in a variety of contact center roles, Larry Streeter now heads up the award winning Customer Support team at Constant Contact, the leader in online marketing tools for small businesses. Insuring the 1.2 million calls, chats, and emails his staff handle each year with nothing less than an “awe-inspiring” experience is Larry’s passion. With a keen eye for recognizing service triumphs and failures, Larry loves to shares his experiences on his blog,

photo credit: dougtone

3 Responses to “How Do You Know When Your Customers Are Starting to Stray?”

  1. Tom Chapman said:

    Apr 14, 11 at 8:53 am

    What a shame your dining experience wasn’t so good.

    Your piece highlights the human side of a business – even the best CRM solution won’t help your business in showing you the failings, if your workforce – in this case the waitress – isn’t passionate about their work or product.

    A happy customer means either repeat business or an advocate for what you have on offer if you offer a one-off service. I value all customers and even if I can’t offer them business, just pointing them in the right direction means you have a “happy customer”W and who knows when they might come back to you?

    Hope your next restaurant experience is/ was more enjoyable!

  2. Shep Hyken said:

    Apr 14, 11 at 10:29 am

    Larry, your points are well taken. Several thoughts come to mind… First, when there is ever a problem, the goal should be to do more than just fix the problem. Ultimately you want to restore customer confidence. That comes from how you fix the problem (the attitude, the urgency, etc.)

    Second, your server in the restaurant may be good at taking a food order and bringing the food out to the table, but lacks ability to communicate with the guest. There is a soft skill – a people skill – that cannot be overlooked. You can train people in the operational side of being a server. However, they have to come to the job with the personality that suits the job, in this case dealing with people – lots of people. The old cliche, “Hire the attitude and train the skill,” comes to mind. It is a shame that the attitude of indifference, or the lack of customer focused skills training, could cause a good experience to go bad.

    Shep Hyken, author of “The Amazement Revolution” (

  3. Larry Streeter said:

    Apr 15, 11 at 8:21 am

    Tom and Shep,

    Thanks for your comments, you’re both spot on!

    I love the cliche (nver heard it!) “hire the attitude and train the skill” as it speaks to the most common cause of a poor customer experience.

    Two days ago I called a new restaurant in my town to make a reservation for the family to celebrate my birthday. The person at the restaurant who answered my call merely said “Hello?”.

    That’s it, nothing else….

    It’s amazing how all the work done on the facility, ambiance, food, and drink is completely wasted by an unskilled, disengaged employee.

    Thanks for sharing!