How to Lose a Customer: The Power of a Bad Impression


How to Lose a Customer: The Power of a Bad Impression

It only takes one bad expression to leave a bad impression.

A depressed and confused individual.Royal Rose Properties recently signed a new owner, took over management of their single property, and was fired by that owner, all within a month. It was a shock to us; first time it’s happened in years. When we sat down to review exactly what had happened, we came to a few conclusions that we thought were worth sharing.

You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a Good Impression

What people don’t mention, however, is that you get an infinite number of chances to make a bad impression. From a psychological perspective, doing a great job serving a client builds up a ‘currency’ of goodwill — and failing them ‘spends’ that currency. Screw up early enough in the relationship, or often enough even after you’ve built up some goodwill, and you end up with a client who thinks fairly little of you.

Statistically speaking, this will happen occasionally. Bad days and bad luck both happen. If you roll a die often enough, you will eventually roll a dozen ones in a row. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it — in fact, how your company responds internally to a failure like that is a big part of making sure it doesn’t happen again.

More importantly, if there are signs that this sort of ‘consecutive failure’ are on the rise, it’s time to get everyone involved together and talk about improving the underlying systems that guide your actions. In a well-designed workflow, there should be enough communication, cross-checking, and verification to prevent most minor slip-ups from ever reaching the attention of the owners. If the owners in general are starting to complain more, either the system isn’t working or the workers aren’t using the system correctly. (Fortunately, that’s not the case with Royal Rose this time around — this time it really was just a string of ones, so to speak — but we’ve had our share of moments over the past several years.)


The Psychology of Disappointment

When this owner departed, they left a list of complaints behind. Some of them were 100% legitimate! Frankly, we dropped the ball on a couple of instances where they left us a message and we didn’t get back to them quickly enough. Also, the maintenance process on their property took longer than anyone expected, and no one had a really good reason why.

But some of their complaints weren’t just wrong, they were provably wrong and they were things that had been brought up in conversation fairly recently. As just one example, they complained that we hadn’t given them some information that we not only gave them, but discussed having given them within a week of their departure.

The point of this is not to throw any shade on the owner — we definitely earned the loss — but it is a valuable lesson: once you’ve left a bad impression with someone, the facts of their relationship with you aren’t important anymore. They will remember things as worse than they were, and you will only ever lose if you try to “correct” their bad impression. You cannot ever win someone over by arguing with their opinion. It doesn’t work in religion, politics, art, or science, and it definitely never ever works on a client.

Your options, once you’ve left a bad taste in someone’s mouth, are to accept the consequences and move on (which is your only option if they’ve fired you), or to apologize, humble yourself, and convince them to let you try again — and then work your ever-living butt off to make sure that you wow the hell out of them going forward.

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