12/12/2014 10:48 am ET Updated Feb 11, 2015

Stop It! Five Things That Drive Customers Away

I returned a message on my voice mail. I was greeted with...

"Thank you for calling Fernwicky's Service Company. This is Amber."

"Hi, Amber. This is Ellen Rohr, returning Mr. Fernwicky's call."

"Ellen Floor?"

"Ellen Rohr."

"And you are with?"

"With you at the moment, Amber. Mr. Fernwicky left me a voice mail just moments ago asking me to call him. How about shooting me over to his extension, or asking him if he wants to pick up?"

"THAT'S not going to happen. Take us OFF your call list. We are not interested in whatever you are selling." Click.

Hmmm. Later that day, I got a return call and sheepish apology from Mr. Fernwicky. I get that Amber was only trying to protect him from unnecessary distractions. But her "system" was getting in the way of sales and service. By the way, when we connected I asked Mr. F why he was calling me. He replied, "My call count is down. I'm looking for ways to get more new customers."

Before you spend time, energy and money on more marketing, fix the holes in your customer service systems. If you and your team members just STOP doing these five things, you can grow sales and profits without spending an additional dollar.

1. STOP assuming you are getting the short straw. That's what happened when I called Mr. Fernwicky and got "Amber the Iron Shield." Stop screening. Stop talking about how cheap your customers are. Pull down the sign on your door that says "No Checks!" Start with love and kindness and intend to be of service. Maybe 2 percent of mankind is really out to get you. If you run into one of them, step aside and let that person pass. Don't create policy for the 2 percent. Focus on the 98 percent who will respond to love, kindness and an intention to be of service.

2. STOP the no call/no show. The next time you go to a party, start a table conversation with, "Tell me about your experiences working with service companies." You will hear that service providers rarely show up on time, and often are a total no-show. Update calls? They just don't happen. How easy is this to fix at your company? Pretty easy.

3. STOP using your customers' stuff. The other day a contractor was at my house replacing a broken phone line. Yeah! He asked if his dad could use our four-wheeler to "stabilize" his witch-ditch equipment. Boo. I said no but the cross look made me wonder if there would be a retaliation key swipe to my ATV. Then he announced that he and his son would love to fish in our ponds. Is the whole family moving in? This happens more than you would think. Also, alert your team to stop using the customer's phone, bathroom, garbage, tools, and anything else you should be providing for them.

4. STOP talking so much. When you are good at what you do, the temptation is to cut to the chase and start fixing things. I'm guilty of this. The best service providers stop talking and start asking good questions. Try it! "Has it always worked like this? Have you ever been happy with the performance? What would you love to have when we are wrapped up today? On a scale of 1-5, how important is _____ to you?" Then, listen to your customer. Next, add your expertise and offer appropriate solutions. It's easy to ask for the sale (and get a, "Yes, please!") when what you are offering is in the customer's best interest based on a real conversation.

5. STOP leaving without a testimonial. I've had about 100 different jobs in my life, all in the service industry. And as the Plumber's Wife, and the owner of Zoom Drain and Sewer Franchise, LLC, I am particularly experienced with the home services industry. I have put on the uniform and tagged along on 113 service calls. I like to watch to see how my team members, and my clients', are doing in the field. Often, I am delighted with how nicely the tech serves customers and solves problems. Alas, sometimes I wish a hole would develop underneath me so I could just disappear when the tech commits one of the aforementioned sins.

Here's how the best service calls go down: The service tech starts with a friendly, "Howyadoin" and spends a moment connecting human-to-human. He (or she) asks good questions and listen. Then says, "I've got some options for you. Let's go through them together." Once the customer agrees to the work, the tech says, "Great! I'll get started and you are welcome to tag along with me. I'll fill you in on what I am doing, so you can learn about your system. Or, I can come find you if there is something you should see. Then, when I am all done, we will do a little 'show and tell.' I'll make sure that everything is as good, or better, than you hoped it would be.

"Next, I am going to ask you for a picture -- you and me -- and a testimonial. You share what you liked about working with me and I will write it down. With your permission I will send a little postcard to your neighbors (and Facebook post, tweet, whatever) so that they know I am a good guy. And if you are not delighted to give me a testimonial, let me know. Because I can make it right. Sound OK?"

Even today, especially today, friendly relationships and word of mouth reviews create more calls and more sales.

Ready to stop doing what doesn't work? Good. Focus on delighting your customers and getting them to brag on you. Next time, we'll tackle the follow up problem.

"I can't find enough good employees."