We’ve all had customer service nightmares that never should have happened. I don’t know about you, but I’ve come to expect that sort of thing from big companies like AT&T and Best Buy. Don’t even get me started on insurance and power companies.   

What really gets me is when small businesses shoot themselves in the foot by screwing up in ways that have nothing to do with their core products or services. Let me be blunt about this. These days, customers have nearly limitless choices. If you think you can get away with subpar customer service, logistics or any other function that impacts your customer’s experience with your brand, think again.

What’s sad is that there’s just no excuse for it. E-commerce and automation solutions make it easy for small companies to operate like the pros. There are all sorts of choices for outsourcing noncore functions to professional firms that get things done like clockwork. And there’s never been a better time to hire good people at competitive wages who would kill for a decent job.

Is it any wonder that you can pick just about any market and find one company that consistently gets things done right while a nearly identical competitor can’t manage a single flawless transaction?

Since I know you don’t want to be in the latter category, here are five common pitfalls that every business should avoid like the plague.   

  1. Fail to deliver. With all the great logistics services available from the likes of UPS and FedEx, there’s simply no excuse for failing to deliver product to a customer as promised. And yet, it happens all the time. Either the tracking information is wrong, they deliver the wrong product, they show up on the wrong day, or they don’t show up at all.
  2. Waste your customer’s precious time — and test their patience. How much time do you spend on the phone or online just trying to figure out what’s gone wrong and get it taken care of? And you never seem to get a straight answer until you’ve asked to speak with whoever’s in charge or threatened to take your business elsewhere.
  3. Create problems out of thin air. Let’s face it. Not all customers are fun to deal with. And since I have the attention span and patience of a two year-old, I could never deal with the general public. Still, you’d think companies could do better than having customer service people who are like crazed lunatics that went off their meds.
  4. Ignore feedback (or make it hard to give it). In the age of Twitter, Facebook, and Yelp, you’d think companies would clue in to the fact that, if they don’t take feedback to heart or make it easy for customers to get in touch with them, they’re going to get eviscerated in a very public way, which is never a good thing. And yet, some companies make it nearly impossible for you to contact them directly. 
  5. Hamstring employees. The most important thing I learned in quality training back in the '80s was that 90% of all problems are management problems. If anything, the real number’s actually higher. So most of the problem situations we attribute to individuals on the front line are actually caused by bad management and flawed processes. Go figure.

Now, here’s an example of how one small business somehow managed to nail four of the five pitfalls — in a single transaction.    

A winery uses a boutique next-day service for wine club deliveries. The service notified me that they’d be delivering on a Monday. Since it’s wine, they needed an adult signature. I was there. They weren’t. Three days later, they supposedly attempted delivery and said nobody was there. But I was there. All day.

I’ve probably gotten wine deliveries from a hundred wineries via UPS and FedEx over the past 20 years. Never had a problem.

So, there’s a problem with this little delivery service, right? Not so fast. The wine club director wasn’t buying it. First, she made excuses for why the delivery never went out on Monday and then questioned the authenticity of my story, saying, “Why would a delivery service make something up?” Yup, she really said that.   

Furthermore, she insisted I provide an alternative address where an adult would be around to sign for the delivery. I asked to speak with whoever’s in charge, and she said, “That’s me.” So I cancelled my club membership and sought a way to contact the winery owner, but there was none. So I posted on Yelp and called it a day. 

For all I know, the owner is the problem and the seemingly shrill, agitated wine club director was caught between a dumb boss, a bad delivery service and a customer. I doubt it, but you never know. In any case, that’s one winemaker whose product I can probably live without. Which is sad because, well, he made pretty good wine.

Don’t let that happen to your business.