The Best Way to Scare Away New Customers

and what successful companies do instead..

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As I was casually wandering in a shop at Uppsala last week-end, a little warning sign caught my attention. It wasn’t there before, and it said the following:

Camera surveillance ongoing. Any theft will be reported to the police. (translated from Swedish)
(Sign reads in english : Camera surveillance ongoing. Any theft will be reported to the police)

Oh boy!

Poor shop manager… it seems like someone stole their candy!

He thought he needed a new policy to make things right. I think that what he really needed was a hug.

This immediately reminded me of a silly story that happened at my previous student housing. The story goes like this: people used to stick notes on their doors. Sometimes it was a welcome message for neighbors to just drop by, other times the notes had contact information or an invite to a party.

Later, a mysterious person came in and placed some interesting messages on people’s doors. These messages ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime, such as: “you are amazing”, “just do it!” or “you’re the sweetest unicorn in town”.

Something about these notes got the housing office to react. Soon enough, every resident received an email warning them about how wrong it is to stick notes on their doors, informing them that they will be punished if they did so:

There is an increasing number of sticky notes of various kinds on the room doors. It is not allowed, so please make sure that your doors are free from any kinds of notes. Please be aware, that we will do some control.

Unfortunately these are not the only places where this happens. The examples are endless :


And if you haven’t guessed it yet. The number one thing that turns your customers off is this: punishing them for other’s mistakes.

Why is this a problem?

thug life grandma

Well, let’s assume that a new person comes in and sees all these creative punishing policies you’ve put. What they’re going to feel is that you have naughty customers who steal candy, cheat and cross lines. And that is not a tribe they wanna be a part of! Because the hidden message that “DO NOT STEAL CANDY” passes is this: people who come here steal candy. And we’ll punish you if you’re one of them. Now our new poor guy is feeling tense and unwelcome.

This means that in addition to punishing the people who are loyal to you, you’re also punishing this poor new guy who could’ve been one of them. If one customer ate your candy, crossed a line, illegally downloaded your product or even made use of your refund policy. So what? Think about the thousand others who did not. Shrug it and move on.

What to do instead?

Stop punishing your tribe! Just shrug and let it go…

My point is not to say whether or not we should add a policy. Neither is it to tell you to not do things to prevent fraud or getting screwed. But think about it, would it make sense to put NO GREEN HATS on a Tinder profile just because your ex had a green hat that made you mad? Maybe not..

When we get upset, we usually focus on what’s wrong. We start thinking that everyone is evil, awful and that the whole world (yes, including cats, babies and penguins) is conspiring against us. This is not the best time to judge, add a policy or send an email.

One of the things that companies like Klarna, MuckWork, CDBaby and hundreds of others are doing right is this: they trust their people. They’re simply giving them the benefit of the doubt. Companies that people love are companies where they feel loved and trusted. Trust your people, and if anything goes wrong... shrug it off and move on.

Trust your people, and if anything goes wrong… shrug it off and move on.

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