I recently read a quote by Richard Branson that I think really hits home. Says Branson, "Customers may be our heart, but our people are our soul." In any business, it's the people who work in it who serve customers, and it's up to leaders to serve their people so they can provide great service.

However, some employees don't understand the importance of providing customers with great service. Instead, they take them for granted--and sometimes even abuse them. This of course is unacceptable.

Says Frank Sonnenberg, small-business expert and author of Follow Your Conscience, "You work hard to attract new customers. Why not invest the same effort in retaining them?"

Doing so requires first recognizing when you and the members of your team are providing customers with lousy service--and pushing them to your competitors. Do any of these 45 ways to wreck a great customer relationship look familiar in your organization? If so, be sure to take action to turn them around now--before your current customers become former customers.

1. Employees treat customers as an inconvenience.

2. Internal meetings detract from customer face time.

3. Customers are nickel-and-dimed to death.

4. CYA is more prevalent than problem solving.

5. Communication is nonexistent. Everything is a surprise!

6. Company needs are placed ahead of customer needs.

7. Customers are charged extra as a result of a supplier's inefficiency.

8. Customers are sold more than they need.

9. The end result is excellent, but the process of getting there is poor.

10. High employee turnover creates confusion.

11. The customer's business is taken for granted.

12. Existing systems and processes can't keep pace with company growth.

13. Success leads to laziness and complacency.

14. Company employees offer great ideas but poor follow-through.

15. A customer is treated like a number.

16. The company loses focus and takes its eye off the ball.

17. Activities are done over and over because they're not done properly the first time.

18. The company doesn't support its products.

19. Employees sweep problems under the rug.

20. The company fails to modernize and keep up with the times.

21. There's no passion. People view work as a means to a paycheck.

22. It's impossible to speak to a live person.

23. The company employs poor billing practices.

24. Red tape gets in the way of serving customers properly.

25. The company loves you before the sale but leaves you afterward.

26. The company doesn't address problems in a timely fashion.

27. Promises are broken for the sake of convenience.

28. People dodge the truth rather than telling it like it is.

29. Internal problems create serious distractions.

30. The company is willing to compromise quality to achieve speed.

31. The work environment is so chaotic that it leaves you wondering if staff members are up to the job.

32. The company condones shady business practices.

33. There's no accountability. Customers are bounced from person to person.

34. People don't take budgets or timing seriously.

35. The company doesn't know its long-standing customers.

36. The company has a history of abandoning small customers for large ones.

37. The company is reactionary. It waits for a crisis instead of anticipating problems.

38. Employees do their best work only after the competition has made inroads.

39. Employees breach privacy and security information.

40. Contacts are inaccessible during critical periods.

41. Carelessness demonstrates that people have no pride in their work.

42. It's obvious the company focuses more on new sales than on keeping existing customers happy.

43. The company allows inexperienced, poorly trained employees to serve customers.

44. It's hard to get a straight answer from anyone because no one's on the same page.

45. Employees spend more time saying what they're going to do rather than actually doing it well.