Why customers leave before buying and how to win them back

Consumers can change their mind about buying a product or service at any stage of the purchase journey and for any number of reasons but two new pieces of research find poor customer service and lack of availability are the main turn-offs.


Getting a customer to consider a brand, see its advertising, research a product or service, and begin the process of buying is becoming a huge challenge. Consumers are continuously bombarded with choice in every sector, so when a customer doesn’t hit that ‘buy’ button finding out why is vital.

Offline and online, from journey mapping to testing physiological reactions and brand interactions, businesses are investing in researching the moments that potential customers drop off.

A survey, conducted by YouGov and commerce cloud provider GT Nexus, aims to shed light on the reasons why 18- to 34-year-olds have switched out one of their favourite brands in the past 12 months.

It shows that the major disloyalty factors fall into the behind-the-scenes domains of operations, logistics and supply chain management, all the more important as UK millennials put a premium on product quality and availability. Respondents cite problems with quality and product availability (both 41%) as the two biggest reasons for switching from one of their favourite brands to another.

In addition 28% of respondents would be turned off a brand if it doesn’t treat or pay its workers fairly and 22% would switch brands if the product isn’t environmentally friendly. This compares to the lack of a strong social media presence (5%), the lack of a mobile app (4%) or the lack of a cool website (3%), which have the least effect on whether millennials turn away from their favourite brands.

A separate study of 2,827 UK adults, commissioned by Market Force Information, finds that in the last year alone seven-in-10 UK shoppers have had such a bad experience at a particular store they vowed not to return.

The most common gripes include slow service (68%), unhelpful staff (65%), unavailable items (52%), and unknowledgeable staff (50%). Shoppers also find rude staff (38%), confusing shop layouts (32%) and overly attentive staff (27%) a turn off.

With reasons for dropping off differing so widely on a case-by-case basis it requires a certain amount of investment from brands and a focus on customer service.

Measurement and mapping

Ladbrokes has just finished mapping the digital customer journey for the brand.

The challenge across all brands is moving from what has traditionally been a transactional and product based relationship to a brand-based dialog, focused on emotional engagement, according to Kristof Fahy, chief customer officer at Ladbrokes.

Fahy has just finished mapping the digital customer journey for the Ladbrokes brand, working with TribeCX, and is looking to use the same approach for Coral.

Fahy says: “It’s both an internal and external exercise, mapping internally and then checking with customers to work through the key areas that we need to address. This approach helps to get all stakeholders onto the same page and develop a clearer cross business view of priorities.”

Often there can be a disconnect between what an organisation believes are the key pain points and what they are in practise from a consumer perspective.

Maria Heckel, CIM

The next step for the brand is using a tool to connect the customer map to its customer metrics as it aims to be a lot more responsive when it comes to identifying customer challenges.

Maria Heckel, marketing director at the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), agrees that too much focus can be put on the transactional relationship and that brands should look to journey mapping to understand different points of interaction.

“There’s a temptation to be transactional in how you look at mapping out journeys [but] a lot of [what influences a customer] happens outside of that transactional process,” says Heckel. “I encourage people to take more of a consumer focus and understand what is important to the customer – often there can be a disconnect between what an organisation believes are the key pain points and what they are in practise from a consumer perspective.”

READ MORE: How to connect customer journeys from research to purchase

The consumer perspective was the basis for Honda’s retail experience programme, which used techniques including neuroscience, psychology, physiology and behavioural economics to identify what influences decision making and purchasing.

Working with Experience Insight, Honda monitored real customers who were intent on buying a car, filming and recording them while they researched online and when they visited car showrooms. This information was matched with second-by-second recordings of their heart rates, respiration and galvanic skin responses.

The results were used to identify and educate the brand and staff on where interactions go wrong through training modules. Dealership participation is currently voluntary but new dealerships have taken part each year. As of July 2016 over 600 staff were participating in the training programme.

Dealers in the programme have on average achieved increased margins and unit sales of 23% above dealers not on the programme and Honda’s customer satisfaction index shows that the average combined score in both sales and after-sales for dealers in the programme is currently around 16% higher than those that are not.

“When expectation and reality don’t match up that is when you can see the tripping points happen,” says Tim Routledge, chief experience officer at Experience Insight.

“People buying a car is a traumatic and difficult experience – there are a huge number of variables that happen in that journey. We see it in other environments as well – there are systems that businesses have in place that whenever they are contradicted with reality of the experience it will create a tripping point.”

Honda used techniques including neuroscience, psychology, physiology and behavioural economics to identify what influences decision making and purchasing.

Managing expectation

Spending money on advertising that doesn’t ring true when a customer goes to buy that product in-store or online is effectively wasted spend, so brands need to manage the expectation created from brand communications and invest in customer experience.

Matt Robinson, who recently co-founded Nested, a new type of online property selling service, believes that investing in customers is not a cost. He says that although “placing a call to the customer every month for 12 months doesn’t add any value until you find out in another world if you didn’t do that they would leave after 12 months”.

But it’s about having a clear vision of how you will invest in customers, according to the serial entrepreneur who is also co-founder of GoCardless. “You need to deliver on what you say,” he says. “If you want to be a thin self-serve product where people get very little customer service or the ability to speak to someone you need to tell them that so they know exactly how it’s going to work.”

Robinson adds: “Tell customers exactly how you plan to treat them and what you expect from them and you really need to deliver on your side of the bargain, if you do that they will deliver on theirs.”

Company-wide responsibility

Customer experience often falls under the marketing department’s responsibilities but Robinson believes there should be a dedicated person or team looking after that relationship. He says: “If it’s not one person’s responsibility then it’s no-one’s responsibility.”

The biggest pool of growth for Robinson this year will be from “managed merchants”, where a team will help existing merchants use the product. He says: “It’s not up-sell or cross-sell but keeping them happy and using the product to the best of its ability and getting the right things out of it – that will be better for them and us.”

Heckel at CIM will “always see the marketer taking a lead” on customer experience as “marketing is all about customer engagement and the experience that you deliver”, but this doesn’t come without challenges.

She says: “Marketing is the customer champion in an organisation – there is a challenge in raising this to make sure the same level of focus and importance on tracking customer journeys is applied across the organisation.”

She adds: “In the increasingly more customer-led world that we find ourselves in, it’s important that organisations as a whole are committed to the customer experience they are delivering.”

Hide Comments2 Show Comments
  • Johnston Horsburgh 30 Dec 2016 at 3:49 pm

    Some excellent advice there for businesses of all sizes. Losing customers at the last post can be depressing to say the least

  • Dennis 18 Jan 2017 at 3:43 am

    This is a great post on keeping customers. It really should be assigned to one person. If you have the right tools in place, like winhex, it makes sense to have someone dedicated to retaining customers.

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