As a consumer advocate, I have a front row seat to some of the most reprehensible business practices in the world.
Every day, I see companies lie to their customers, mislead them, rip them off and take them for granted.
Just the other day, I watched helplessly as a credit card company overturned a customer’s dispute on the purchase of a fraudulent travel club membership. It was a classic scam, including the high-pressure sales pitch, the contract rigged with “gotcha” clauses and, of course, the product that failed to meet even the most basic expectations.
By the way, if you’re ever asked to pay thousands of dollars in exchange for travel discounts, don’t walk away – run. It’s almost certainly a scam.
But the things bad businesses don’t do are often as noteworthy as what they do. Often, you can see these signs before you become the victim of a rip-off and avoid the company altogether.
Here are five things I’ve noticed bad businesses don’t do:
Give you a receipt.
It seems so simple, handing a customer a paper receipt or emailing a transaction of your purchase, but it doesn’t always happen. The company takes your money and there’s no record of the transaction. At the very least, this is a sign of a sloppy corporate culture, if not of poorly-trained employees. At the worst, it means they don’t want you to have a record of the purchase and, therefore, have no way to return the product.
Answer your question.
Bad businesses don’t answer their customers. During the sales process, they offer canned sales pitches with polished promises that don’t turn out to be true. After the sale, they refuse to answer you. Got a problem? Call our offshore “service” center and we’ll read a scripted answer. Want your money back? Send us an email. We may respond, but probably not.
Appreciate your business.
The very worst businesses take you for granted. Often, they do it because they can: They have a commanding market position (“where else are you gonna go?”) or the few competitors they have are worse. These companies know you’re going to come back again because you have no real choice. They are not grateful for your business; they count on it.
Treat you like a person.
Words like “customer” and “client” can be used to de-humanize you, to reduce you to nothing more than a line item on a balance sheet. Companies that tell you to stand in a line, fill out a form, or that refer you to a warranty instead of listening to your problem have completely reduced you to a walking dollar sign. Make no mistake, these are bad companies that don’t deserve your business.
Saying “thank you” to a customer doesn’t cost anything, and means more than a company will ever know. So why don’t more businesses end every transaction with a sincere, “thank you for your business”? It isn’t necessarily poor training, although that’s partially to blame. Failing to express your gratitude is a problem with the corporate culture, the very DNA of a company. And it is a very serious issue, because it suggests the business thinks you are there to serve its financial interests – a warped and customer-hostile way of seeing the world.
When you encounter a company that forgets to do any of these things, you may want to consider taking your business elsewhere. You deserve better.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions at by email.