Why Send Customers Away – The Art of Building Trust and Loyalty

How often have you told customers that they would be better served elsewhere? When was the last time a salesperson sent you to a competitor?

This newsletter post will sound like business-ending advice for some people, but please hear me out.


1) in your customer’s best interest, or

2) when it’s your staff’s best interest.

Your Customers’ Needs

Research cited in the book Service Economics suggests that when businesses truly act like “trusted advisors” (not just claim to be), they outperform the competition by 20%. That research supports the idea that you should refer customers when you can’t optimally serve them. For example, consider a butcher who tells a customer, “Our veal will be better tomorrow, I don’t want to sell you what we have today.” Similarly, look to a Zappos call center employee (Customer Loyalty Team member) who is encouraged to say, “I am sorry that we don’t have that in inventory, let’s look on shoes.com.”

Send them away to serve a relationship, not a sale!

Your Team’s Needs

You should also send a customer away if they mistreat an employee. In my book, The New Gold Standard, I outline how Ritz-Carlton leaders are guided by the motto “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” The reciprocity articulated in the motto means that if a guest acts ungentlemanly toward one of the Ritz-Carlton ladies, that guest will be asked to elevate his behavior or seek lodging elsewhere.

Here are a few tips for deciding when a customer should be sent away:

1) Spend time thinking about customer requests that fall outside of your core competencies.

2) Look for competitors who have strengths in areas you do not. Consider strengths that you possess that those competitors don’t.

3) Reach out to competent competitors, letting them know that you will send customers their way when customer needs fall outside of your core competencies. Suggest to them that you are available for similar referrals related to your strengths.

4) Train your team to refer customers elsewhere to ensure long-term relationships, not short-term sales that will lead to customer churn.

5) List actions that will not be accepted from customers toward team members. Develop processes for coaching customers to act appropriately. Be willing to send customers elsewhere if they are uncoachable.

I’ll continue to send customers away when the situation merits. How about you? The courage to let go will pay off in the end!

To learn more about ways to build trust and loyalty, don’t hesitate to contact me at josephmichelli.com/contact.

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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