Knocking Down Doors

Smart start-up lessons for smart start-up people

How To Lose Customers Online in 5 Easy Steps

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Customer retention is for suckers and landscapers – that’s a retaining wall joke.

Time after time, studies have shown that retaining customers drives down costs, keeps everyone happy, and is the key to building a successful business. Who wants all that?

Instead, we should burn bright and flare out early. There’s nothing more satisfying than declaring bankruptcy, bringing shame on yourself and your loved ones, and denying pleading customers the chance to actually interact with your company.

Maybe you want more time with your family or goldfish. Maybe the burden of running a company is less like the smiling Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka wonderland you’d expected and more like the remade, war crime of Johnny Depp’s Wonka.

Whatever your motivation, these five simple steps should help you shake your excess customers and burn the whole thing to the ground.

Step 1: Ignore website navigation

Once a customer is on your site, you’re going to want to get them out of there ASAP. The best way to do that is to make your site the digital equivalent of the the Triwizard Maze.

Bop Design says, “Good navigation should be easy to find and comprehend – making for quick and easy travel throughout the entire website.”

To confuse your victims, move the navigation around as they travel from page to page. Add in three levels of drop-down menus and maybe a too-fast scrolling header. Since the recipe for good site navigation would have you follow the three click rule, allowing users “to find the information they are looking for within three clicks,” you’re going to want to push for eight or nine clicks.

Finally, you’re going to want to shove usability off a cliff when it’s not looking.

Usability best practices suggest breaking up text to give the page whitespace, linking relevant and useful information, and giving your images text alternatives for screen readers. So you’re going to want to go ahead and ignore all that.

A good wall of text with links that make no sense in context can really help. Put important information in difficult to read images with no alt text provided. You’re already on the road to customer loss success.

Step 2: Make online payment difficult

If you feel compelled to pretend like you’re going to accept payment online, at least make it as difficult as possible for a reasonable person to make that payment.

I don’t yet know of any Diner’s Club-only payment processors, but there are plenty of other ways you can keep cash out of your account.

Processors like Paypal and Amazon offer well-respected brands, simple payment tools, and a wealth of buyer support options – you can chuck those right out the window. For this step, you’re going to want to go with the lowest cost, most obscure payment processor available.

Something based out of one of your Syrias or your Russias is probably a good start.

This is anecdotal, but I love when there are multiple places to fill out my address, lots of different sites that I get funneled through, or no payment confirmation page. Those are all great ways to keep people from pulling out their cards.

On the business-side, you might want to look for a company that doesn’t advertise its rates or makes you meet with a local representative to find out what its fees are. Maybe someone that has such a complex fee structure that there are online forums dedicated entirely to figuring out how much you’ll owe the processor. Good signs all around.

Step 3: Follow-up when, and only when, the sun expands into the orbits of Mercury and Venus, boiling off the Earth’s oceans and creating a vast hellscape where once life flourished

A good sales process uses a nurture track to follow customers along the buying journey, helping them from one stage to the next and checking in if things stall out. You might reach out for feedback on a recent purchase or even give someone a ping if they’ve abandoned a cart full of products.

Of course, I’m going to recommend keeping communication to a bare minimum – here’s a minimum bear.

You might be obligated to send a receipt for legal reasons, but that doesn’t mean you have to make getting in touch simple. Keep your site free and clear of contact details. If you have a phone attached to a line someone knows the number of, you should probably just move.

Kissmetrics found that follow-up can increase sales and keep customers happy, which means you need to avoid it at all costs.

If you feel compelled to interact, I’m partial to those weird little survey boxes that pop up, asking me for a moment of my time with nothing offered in exchange. It’s an easy way to tell the site visitor that you care about yourself, but aren’t really interested in them.

Step 4: Have nothing in stock

Let’s get back to basics. People come to your site, navigate your labyrinthian menu system, fill out a survey, come back, and somehow manage to actually find the thing you’re selling.

Ugh.

It’s okay, though, you’ve thought ahead, giving them either a notification that you’re out of stock or that they need to call to complete the purchase. Perfect.

There is nothing people hate more than finding out the hyped product is unavailable due to poor planning on the seller’s part. Nintendo has mastered this with its NES Classic Edition. Released four months ago, it’s still unavailable online for anything remotely resembling MSRP. Bonus points to Nintendo for keeping buyers in the dark about future availability.

This is a more difficult proposition for service businesses, but you can make it work by not having those simple contact details, never explaining the service you offer in detail, and failing to return any call or email that does manage to sneak through.

A good understocking plan can keep you spending cash on ordering small batches repeatedly, keep your inventory management team busy every day, and can help drive down sales. It’s a good thing.  

Step 5: Drag your name through the mud

If you want to keep the buyers at bay, you can always just destroy your own brand’s value. The average S&P 500 brand accounts for 30 percent of its company’s value. Without those well-respected brands, the companies wouldn’t be the same.

Sounds like a pretty easy challenge. Plenty of businesses have managed to cut down on sales by mouthing off about their customers or making jokes out of terrorism. You probably won’t have to go those extremes. Just make people unhappy or uncomfortable.

Twitter and Facebook have made brand self-destruction easier than ever, with CEOs and founders as happy as ever to give their simple opinions on a complex world.

You can speed this up by giving the keys to the social kingdom to everyone you employ. A call center worker or cashier should be able to easily mock their last customer for everyone to see.

The quick list of “Do-Nots”

I think we’ve got a good plan in place. To wrap it all up, let’s summarize the things to avoid.

  1. Clear navigation based on well-tested principles. Breadcrumbs and simple menus are for children. You want some horrific, Jackson Pollock-style navigation. Make your visitors yearn for the vision and careful plotting the Titanic’s captain brought to bear.
  2. Online payments that are easy and trusted. Using a well-known provider to give your customers the trust they desire is out. Having them fill out a Google Form with all their payment details is in. Your security should be like the sign in the bathroom, keeping your chef’s hands clean – ineffective.
  3. Follow up with buyers and potential buyers in a pleasant, timely manner. Maybe you can still buy a fax machine.
  4. Manage your inventory like a business actually should. A lean inventory management system is still too robust for you. Stock should be ethereal, generating only an impression of physicality in the customer’s mind.
  5. Protect your brand like it’s your own name. Trust is the number one cause of unwanted sales. To keep people from accidentally giving you money, just get out there are start slandering folks. Start local and move outward.

If you ignore these five tips and follow the five steps instead – how clear is that? – you’ll be out of business in no time.

For more bad advice and what-not-to-dos, check out Capterra’s Knocking Down Doors blog. If you’ve got a better idea, drop it in the comments or shoot me an email.

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About the Author

Andrew Marder

Andrew Marder is a writer for Capterra. His background is in retail management, banking, and financial writing. When he’s not working, Andrew enjoys spending time with his son and playing board games of all stripes.

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