Customer retention: don’t make promises you’re not going to keep

No-one knows exactly how much more it costs to obtain new customers than to retain existing customers; the Institute of Marketing has dug out several statistics that range from three to 30 times more (see this PDF). But whatever the cost, the fact is that it is more costly to acquire new customers than it is to keep your current customers happy. I’ve already noted that business indifference is the biggest reason why customers don’t come back, but yesterday I experienced another one: Making promises that you’re not going to keep.

With over 25 years as a copywriter plus the fact that it wasn’t until my late 20s that I became a fully-fledged copywriter, I have one or two grey hairs on my head.

So I was particularly drawn to a US-based firm called eSalon that is, apparently, causing a storm in the UK with customised hair colours which claim to be the next best thing to visiting the hair salon where you would expect to pay £loads.

I visited their website and answered a myriad of questions about my hair type and colour, age, colour expectations and even the colour of my eyes. I uploaded a particularly grim photo of me last summer when the sun had bleached my hair of its customary ‘ash blonde’ colour, care of the local supermarket hair care section.

The company was offering the first shipment at half price: around £7, which was similar to what I’d pay for an off-the-shelf hair colour.

And, if I didn’t like the shade, they’d formulate and deliver a new one for free until they got it exactly right.

So far so good. I paid my £7 and waited…

… For over two weeks before it was delivered, by which time my current hair colour had faded away to virtually nothing. Ouch.

I followed the instructions and – hey presto! – …

… It was TERRIBLE! Far from my perfect customised ‘ash blonde’, my hair was a brassy light brown.

But never mind, I thought, I can maintain a low profile while I take advantage of their free replacement promise (let’s hope I don’t have to wait two weeks for it, though…)

So I emailed them, as requested, and explained my predicament.

All I got was an automated response instructing me to adjust my colour requirements for a future delivery. Not a word of the freebie replacement.

Oh, and if I hadn’t paid attention I wouldn’t have noticed that they (quietly) automatically sign you up for future deliveries at full price. You have to manually remove the auto-order. Sneaky, that.

But, because they’d failed to keep their promises, I removed the auto-order manually. I won’t be coming back.

However, even worse than failing to keep your promises is downright lying.

Like the double-glazing company we used for our front bay windows the other year who made an error in the installation. Sadly there would be a long delay in fixing it because the director’s wife was in hospital having a baby and apparently he had to give the go-ahead for the work to be done.

Two days later we were walking in the local park when who should we meet but this very director complete with wife and baby… who looked a little older than two days…But, hey, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he had two wives. Or this was his sister and her baby. Or his lover. Who knows?

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