Customer Complaints are Great.

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image copyright 2005 by Olivier Blanchard

Customer complaints are great.

Call me crazy, but what better opportunity will you ever get to turn a customer - any customer into your biggest advocate?

You still think I'm crazy. I can tell.

Okay, think about this for a second: When customers take the time to call you about a problem, they aren't just looking to vent. They're looking for a solution.

Still with me? Good.

When a customer calls you with a complaint/problem, what should you do?

a) Take care of them?

b) Keep them on hold until they give up?

c) Transfer them to the next person? And the next person? And the next person?

d) Tell them that you can't help them?

(Hint: a) Do the right thing. Make them happy. Take good care of them. Make them feel special. They deserve it, and it's your duty to make them happy.

If doing the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing doesn't work for you, think of it this way: Your customers are either your allies or they're your competitors'.

Say it outloud. It's worth actually taking a moment to let it sink in, because as basic a concept as that is, it doesn't get nearly the daily attention it deserves.

Without your customers, you are nowhere. Without customer dollars coming your way, what you have isn't a business, it's a hobby.

So when they call with a complaint, don't dodge it. Don't get on the defensive. Don't argue with them. Don't try to save face over a mistake you can easily correct. Don't lose a lifelong customer over a twenty dollar problem.

Strangely, many companies still choose to do just that.

All in all, here's what your angry customers want:

1) A friendly voice on the phone. (And yes, they can hear a smile.)
2) No more than ten seconds on hold. Ever.
3) Someone who will listen to their beef and pay attention to what they are saying.
4) Reassurance that the problem was identified and corrected.
6) To hear these words: "We're so sorry that you had to go through this. The problem's been completely taken care of. Here's what we're going to do for you..."
7) Give them free stuff for their trouble: A gift certificate to a nice restaurant. Free airfare anywhere in the continental US. 3 months free cable. A free replacement of the defective product + overnight priority shipping + an upgrade of some kind.

Whatever your company has to offer, whatever makes sense, do it.

Free front row tickets to a charity concert.


Free oil changes for a year.

Whatever. Don't send them a pen or a keychain. Build value. They're already on an emotional high. Now they aren't angry anymore, because you've fixed their problem. They're coming off the aggression but they're still pumped full of hormones. Give them something of value, and they will associate that emotional memory to that positive experience and to your brand.

Sneaky? No. Just smart.

You don't want to just "keep" your angry customers. You want to make them fall in love with you all over again. Let's face it: Their expectations were shattered when their dishwasher blew up, or when their hard drive burned out. The whole time they're calling you, they're thinking: never again am I buying this brand.

Never again am I eating in this restaurant.

Never again am I buying my insurance through these people.

Fixing the problem isn't enough. That's just getting them back to neutral. Neutral doesn't do anybody any good. Neutral isn't where they were when they first took your product home.

You want to make them love you again.

Be nice. Be fast. Be classy. Treat them like you're on a first date. In under five minutes, you can turn an angry customer into your best friend. Into an advocate of your brand. Into someone who will tell everyone they know how well you took care of them when they had a problem. People remember that. Good customer service is so rare these days that you're sure to stand out (in a good way).

It costs less than losing them. Trust me.

Set up easy compensation packages for angry callers. Have them ready. Give them stuff they'd want for christmas. Give them stuff that will keep them in your world. Make them feel that yeah, even though you screwed up, you also more than made up for it.

You don't have to go the extra mile. Just the extra inch. The extra inch it takes for your lips to stretch into a friendly smile. The extra inch it takes for your finger to click on the box that will zero-out the next three months' charges on their cable bill. The extra inch it takes to slap a box with a "return" sticker without arguing about it. The extra inch your thumb needs to travel to print them a new receipt.

Doing the right thing means giving patrons not just one dessert but lavishing them with the whole platter. It means having the chef cook up something special, just for them, and making it look like something they'd have to go to New York or Paris to ever experience. It means giving them gift certificates for them AND a few friends.

It also means letting your customers know that the problem will NEVER happen again.

Complaints are the most valuable calls your customer service department will receive all day.

Still, most companies are afraid of negative calls. They don't like to hear complaints or talk about them. They see complaints as confrontations, and nobody likes those.

True. Nobody likes to be yelled at. To be argued with. Nobody likes to confront "angry". But that's just it: An angry call should never be about confrontation. It should be about resolution. It should be about making someone feel safe again and taken care of. It should be about turning that frown upside down.

Complaints are opportunities to connect with your customers on a deeper level than ever before. They are opportunities to show them how much they matter to you, and how much thought you've put into taking care of them when problems do arise. They are opportunities to show a different side of your brand, one that probably has more substance than just great design and clever packaging.

Products come and go. Brands and the relationship they have with their customers are much more important.

So yeah, call me crazy, but I think that customer complaints are great. They make us better. They help us make new friends. They help us right wrongs.

When handled correctly they make people happy. They do.

So next time a customer calls with a complaint, just smile, say "yes, we know," say "we're so glad that you're telling us that," and let the healing begin.


2 Responses to “Customer Complaints are Great.”

  1. Anonymous Anonymous 

    Great post. I agree that this is when you either walk the walk or the customer starts turning away - feet to follow. Lousy customer service makes me wonder sometimes if the customer support folks even KNOW what the marketing messaging and sales reps are promising when they make the sale. If they are cognizant of the promise bestowed on the customer at the time of sale. Consistency. It should happen from one end of your company to the other. Besides that, it's often a fantastic time to find out how to serve them better. Which can mean more sales and greater loyalty.

  2. Blogger Olivier Blanchard 

    You've hit the nail on the head.

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