Contributed Column

Marketing 101

by Christine Miller, Miller Consulting LLC

How you lose clients who love you
(and it’s not for the reasons you think)

Your product is great, pricing is competitive, employees are likable. Yet you can’t seem to take the business to the next level and grow. Client attrition is high; why don’t clients who initially love you stay with you?

You own your business because you have a unique talent, service, or idea. However, that doesn’t mean you are a great accountant, receptionist, bookkeeper, HR director, and marketer. As a small-business owner it is crucial to know your strengths and accept your weaknesses.

Customers demand good service from the estimate to the final bill. As a business owner it’s easy to believe you can do it all. Trying to wear too many hats can lead to mistakes and oversights. Studies show business-service clients can be up to five times more likely to switch professionals for perceived service quality problems than for price concerns or product quality issues.

Interesting, huh? You are losing clients because of poor service and mistakes. Not the product, not the price, but service.

You’ll lose clients when … you promise to call (e-mail, fax) the client back tomorrow with information and then get really busy (or serve a “more important” client) and forget to do it for a couple of days.

You have now lost credibility and integrity.

You’ll lose clients when … estimates, proposals, or invoices have errors or don’t go out on time. 

You have now lost trust and confidence in your ability.

You’ll lose clients when … calls are unanswered and fill up the voice mail. With no set plan for checking the machine, calls get missed and/or returned late, or worse, not at all.

You have now lost the clients’ sense of importance.

This is what the client now thinks: “Now that I am a client, they take me for granted. I can’t trust these people to do what they said they will do. If they are not keeping their word on these simple things, how will they treat me on bigger projects? I am not going to buy more products or continue with service if this is how my business will be treated. Is there someone else who can do this for me that is more reliable? I am not going to recommend them and risk my reputation.”

Now, I completely understand about making the most of a tight economy, and if you have a business where your team members wear multiple hats and it works, great.

However, all too often I’ve worked with clients and seen confidence in the company dwindle due to the leader’s lack of delegation and attention to details. Put your ego aside and make investments in employees who will help grow and retain your clients.

If you have a full team, make sure they are supporting your sales effort. A superstar salesperson can do only so much alone. A salesperson can bring in the client and close the sale, but reception, accounting, customer service, and manufacturing all need to be just as client-centric as the sales department.

Having the best product, service, or price is wonderful; however, I’ve seen clients pay a little more, or even sacrifice a bit in quality, and move their business because another company demonstrated a greater commitment to its customer. The money spent on having key people in service jobs will pay for itself when clients trust the company, not just the product or service you provide. •

Christine Miller is president of Miller Consulting LLC, which helps small businesses identify, qualify, develop, and close targeted sales leads, and helps organizations find more value in existing relationships. She can be reached at

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