Have you annoyed your customers today?

This week I’ve been annoyed by two companies. First, a package I ordered from Stonewall Kitchen arrived with my housemate Bob’s birthday presents. The package seemed much bigger than necessary and when I opened it, I found that fully one-third of the box was filled with those annoying packing peanuts. While the invoice noted that these were biodegradable, I still had to scoop a grocery bag full of ‘em out to get to the gifts in the box. And, as anyone who has done this knows, it is virtually impossible not to end up with some of the pesky little things spread around on the kitchen floor.

Then last evening, I decided to try a new product I’d picked up at the grocery store, Dole Apple Cinnamon Fruit Crisp. The first direction was simple: Remove the cap. Two minutes later, the cap was still securely attached. I resorted to asking Bob if he could pry the lid off. Well, yes he could, but it would require considerable effort and grumbling followed by resorting to using his penknife on the darn thing. Add this product to the list of things I’ll never buy again. Thanks, Dole. (Actually, I probably might have put up with it if the Apple Crisp had been delicious; it was decidedly mediocre.)

So this brings me to the question of whether you’ve done anything to annoy your customers today? Are you sure? Have you experienced your product or service the way a customer does? I’d like to see the CEO of Stonewall Kitchen tell me that he regularly scoops their packing peanuts out of boxes and he doesn’t mind it a darn bit. And, oh how I’d love to place an Apple Crisp in front of the CEO of Dole and ask him to open the sucker without use of sharp implements.

Every day, companies large and small annoy their customers in ways large and small. If your customers love your products, like I love Stonewall Kitchen’s Mesquite Steak Sauce, they’ll put up with it. If they feel neutral or even negative about your products, as I do about Dole’s Apple Crisp, they won’t.

So if you’re annoying your customers, you’d better find out about it. Experience your products yourself, under the circumstances your customers do.

Go ahead and ask customers if anything annoys them. Stonewall Kitchen included a feedback card in their package, but the only thing they were interested in hearing about was whether I liked their Web site. They didn’t inquire about the whole customer experience, which is a missed opportunity.

Don’t assume nothing is going wrong just because you don’t get any complaints. I’m not going to bother to tell Dole their packaging is horrible. So you might very well be annoying people–and therefore losing customers–and not know it. So go ahead and ask. But be prepared to fix things if they say, “Yeah, now that you ask, something has been bugging me.”

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