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Complaints Are Great. Keep Them Coming!
Remember, customers have a choice when facing a complaint: They can call you or call your competition. Complaints are second chances, and we don't get too many of those.
Most companies consider customer complaints a primary source of their ongoing corporate headache. It is the part of the job that most people could do without. After all, who enjoys talking to upset people who are on the verge of screaming?
But most companies do not understand the nature of complaints and what they truly represent. Complaints have a completely different meaning from the customer viewpoint than from the company viewpoint.
Customers do not enjoy getting upset. They hate waiting on hold for 15 minutes listening to a message about "how their business is so important and their patience even more," just to voice their grievances.
Customers are seeking something more fundamental when they are calling to complain. They are trying to rectify a conflict, and basically are seeking help from their relationship partner (you, the company).
Complaints also represent second chances. Customers are giving you a rare, second opportunity to make things right. They in a sense are saying, Help me stay with you and not defect--give me a reason to believe in you one more time. This is a rare plea that every company must embrace and act on immediately. After all, the alternative is worse: those customers who are upset and did not even bother to call you.
When a customer calls to complain that his hotel room was dirty and he could not sleep due to noisy air-conditioning, the wrong response is to be sorry about it. By saying sorry and leaving it as such, you are suggesting to the customer that the problem is somehow his fault. How otherwise would you explain the fact that you have done nothing about a problem that was your responsibility?
Here is a case in which your product was defective and yet you leave the customer to bear the consequences of your wrongdoing. The last thing the customer wants to hear is that nothing is done about it, which is how the customer views your actionless "sorry."
Even the smallest action-based gesture can diffuse the potential anger. By sending a small token of apology (a music CD, movie tickets, extra-miles points, etc.), you will be taking responsibility and demonstrating that you own the problem.
Speed is a critical factor in the process. The resolution must be presented immediately and without layers of management approval. This is how you turn the customer into a happy one and turn your second chances into a loyalty-building activity. Rest assured that this happy customer will share his experience with others and will buy from you again very soon (and by doing so will cover the costs you incurred by taking the responsibility for and ownership of the problem, and not just paying lip service to it).
Remember, customers have a choice when facing a complaint: They can call you or call your competition. Complaints are second chances, and we don't get too many of those. They're also opportunities to help customers when they really need us, and to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the competition. They're great opportunities--keep them coming.