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Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning

By Michael Hill of Complaints R Great

A customer who complains to you should be valued – many of your dissatisfied customers will take their business elsewhere and not even give you an opportunity to respond. Bill Gates has stated that: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”.

 “I really care for you and I want us to stay together.
Do you really want end this relationship?”
“Why don’t you speak to me?”
“Why do you find it so hard to say sorry?”
“Why can’t you acknowledge my hurt?”
“Why don’t you care?”

Comments from a marriage counseling session? No. But they are comments of customers who are feeling unloved, who want a relationship to blossom but a problem has been allowed to grow and grow until the relationship breaks down with no chance of reconciliation.

It’s such a let down when you tell someone you trust about a problem but they do nothing or little other uttering a few, vaguely interested reassurances to help resolve the problem. None of us are perfect and most of us are accepting of the odd mistake but we do expect to engage in a dialogue to make sure that something is done to put things right and prevent the problem from happening again.

But how do you treat these loyal customers who want an ongoing relationship with you? Do you make it easy for them to talk to you?

Up to two-thirds of dissatisfied customers do complain to the provider of the purchased product or service but many remained unheard. Why? Because available channels are too limited and restrictive – businesses too often require the complaining customer to go to a great deal of effort to have any concerns properly heard – making them spend time writing and posting a complaint and get little opportunity to discuss the problem experienced with someone who grasps ownership of the complaint and directs the process in achieving resolution.

Sometimes, communication within a relationship breaks down and we need some external help to get the relationship back on track. We may rely on the support of friends and family or we may get professional support through counseling and mediation. We can do the same in complaint management – having processes in place that allow for experienced internal or external complaint handlers to mediate and help both parties to find a solution that gets them communicating again and allows the rebuilding of the relationship.

But sometimes, the solution is separation and we have to recognize that sometimes we must let go of a customer. But we need to do so in a way that is understanding and clearly communicated.

Do you measure the customer feedback experience – do you understand the expectations of the complaining customer and how often do you match those expectations?

Do you reassure your customers by letting them know how you develop and change for the better by listening to their comments?

Key Learning Points
Many businesses still look on complainants as those customers who are difficult and impossible to satisfy but businesses who value the complaining customer build loyalty, increase customer retention and build a good reputation in the marketplace. A Warwick Business School study found that consumers considered an effective complaint management process to be the key differentiator in 43% of the UK businesses with good reputations.

If you want to build long and loving relationships with your customers then:

  • Always be open to discussing problems with your customers
  • Listen and empathize – consider the reasons behind the dissatisfaction and hurt
  • Be personal and caring - don’t brush them aside with automated, standard responses
  • Say sorry and acknowledge the problem – even if you believe you are not in the wrong
  • Show your affection when you’re in the wrong – but don’t overdo it!
  • Give customers and complaint handlers access to someone who can come in to mediate when a solution cannot be found but a continued relationship is still required
  • Take time to think about your actions and look at ways to improve the way you do things in future
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