Unhappy Customers? Lucky You!

Unhappy Customers? Lucky You!


After leaving countless voicemail and e-mail messages for a customer support rep regarding the fact I’d been double-billed for several months for the same service, I finally received proof that my pleas had not been pitched into a black hole.

His eloquent, empathetic response to my last e-mail request? “Working on it.”

No, I’m not kidding.

Nothing else. No “we apologize for the inconvenience” or anything of the sort. My being financially penalized for being a customer wasn’t met with an automated response or even with the account rep signing his name.

If you want your customers to flee like guests at an IRS-sponsored cocktail reception, feel free to duplicate this example. Of course, we know that you want to keep your customers happy; unfortunately, it’s what you may not know that’s costing you money.

One thing that employees may feel compelled to do is to hide customer complaints so that they never see the light of day. While you may feel that, as a manager, you have too many things to worry about to deal with minor customer complaints, I ask that you re-consider. In fact, a customer that complains is one of the most valuable resources you have in making your business stronger and your customers more loyal.

“Research shows that for every customer who takes the time to complain to a company, there are 25 who don’t bother,” says Jackie Huba, co-author of Creating Customer Evangelists (Kaplan Business, Revised Edition, 978-1419597213) and a highly-regarded expert in building loyal customer relationships. “These customers who proactively contact the company want it to improve. Treated well, they have a tendency to become evangelists for the company.”

Yes, it’s true. This customer cares enough about your business and hopes to improve it enough to take the time to register a complaint. So, what will you do with this unexpected (and oddly-wrapped) gift?

Common Mistakes Lead To Lost Customers

When it comes to understanding sales and customer service, few have the longevity and reputation of Zig Ziglar. A bestselling author and speaker who has specialized in these business issues for over five decades, Ziglar says that lack of ownership is a common—and costly—mistake made by businesses of all sizes. “When a customer complains, he is taking issue with the output of an enterprise,” Ziglar explains. “When the store clerk or the front office person who handles the complaint announces his or her lack of jurisdiction over the matter, the customer is frustrated.”

Blaming a situation on company policy or simply telling a customer that there’s nothing you can do is one of the fastest ways to alienate a customer. But what if the employee really doesn’t have jurisdiction over an issue?

Make sure that employee has access to someone who can address a situation immediately, or better yet, give the employee a little leeway in solving a customer’s problem. If a business has a regularly-occurring complaint due to an issue being changed/improved (Web site update, voicemail system, etc.), make sure there is a clear process for how each employee can solve the problem and provide immediate relief. Oftentimes, taking the time to evaluate complaints and giving employees a bit more power to solve problems will give the customer satisfaction and keep a situation from dragging out, which is sure to aggravate a customer even more.

Do You Feel It?

“Lack of empathy is probably the biggest mistake or shortfall,” says Huba. “Empathizing with a customer’s complaint helps build trust. Some customers just need to vent, whether it’s your company’s fault or not, so arguing with a customer during venting is a no-no.”

It seems that offering a simple apology is also often overlooked. According to Huba, a simple apology is rarely extended when a customer complains. It is a small gesture that means a great deal and one that should always be offered.

What Example Are You Setting?

It may take a bit of reflection, but examining how open managers are to addressing customer complaints is a critical cornerstone in improving customer communication. Do you handle an angry customer by replying, “I really don’t have time for this” or refusing to speak to the customer? What kind of message does that send to your team members about the validity or importance of the complaint?

It seems that managers and parents have a lot in common. It is not what we say, but whether what we say and what we do are in sync, that affects those around us.

What happened the last time a customer complained to you about poor quality or lousy service? I’m not talking about what you said TO the customer; what you say ABOUT the customer to your employees afterward is of equal importance.

Did you say something negative? Maybe felt like tossing in some sarcasm to lighten the blow of her complaint? If you did, you can expect your employees to follow suit and not take customer complaints to heart. After all, if the manager belittles the customer, it sends the message that her view really doesn’t matter.

Your cash register thinks otherwise. Her opinion matters a great deal. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with the occasional outrageous complaint, but always treat the customer with respect, whether she’s in earshot or not.

Re-Framing More Than Just Pictures

Reframing the experience can help save a customer relationship from going permanently South. If you’re the manager or owner, the change in viewpoint will need to come first from you.

Ziglar states, “History has shown that companies fear complaints because they highlight errors in processes and point out flaws in what had been perceived to be smooth in the eyes of the company. However, just like objections are a salesperson’s best friend because they allow you to know what the log jam is, complaints are helpful to an organization because they tell you what needs to be done to increase efficiency.”

Being receptive to the complaint is paramount to helping your team not only effectively address the issue but encourage customers to come forward in the first place.

Surprises Are For Birthday Parties and Cranky Customers

One way to turn a sour customer experience into one a customer will brag about to others involves the element of surprise. Huba says, “The fix has to be extraordinary enough that people will talk about it. If a customer returns a defective product, instead of just replacing it and saying ‘I do apologize,’ apologize a bit more profusely and say, ‘I hope we can make it up to you with a $50 gift card.’ Customers aren’t expecting a gift, but it certainly encourages them to return.”

Think of how you can surprise your customers in a positive way. By giving them more than they expect, they may reciprocate by singing your praises to others. Having these un-commissioned salespeople on your side is worth far more than any marketing mail-out campaign because they carry the credibility to speak to the experience.

So, the next time an unhappy customer has a bone to pick with your business, thank your lucky stars and welcome the opportunity to add a new salesperson to your team.

And as for my recent frustrating customer service experience? Well, I’m working on it. yy