Customers Who Complain Are Customers Who Care
Two of the key points from last week’s Monday Morning Marketing Memo are:
1) complaints will happen because mistakes will happen, and
2) customers who complain are customers who care.
Therefore, knowing that you are going to get complaints and knowing that such complaints are good for you, it makes sense to have a complaint management strategy in place. Such a complaint management strategy must not only focus on resolving the various customer issues that crop up, but needs to also systematically turn customer complaints into learning opportunities for the entire organization.
The first component of your complaint management strategy is that you should make it easy for customers to complain.
“What?” I can hear many of you saying. “Make it easier for customers to complain, so that we actually get more complaints?”
But that’s exactly what your goal should be ─ to drive more complaints. After all, if you do not hear about the problems your customers are having with your products, services, or staff, then how are you going to go fix these?
Secondly, when a customer has a complaint, and they run into hurdles and barriers trying to voice their complaint to someone, all they do is get angrier and angrier. This results in a small problem developing into a multi-faceted larger one, simply because the customer cannot find a way to channel their concerns, anger, fears, worries, questions, or complaints to your organization in a timely and convenient manner.
This is particularly true when it comes to the information posted on your website. Few things seem to infuriate customers more these days than not being able to find the right contact details for lodging a complaint, or for speaking to someone other than a call center “service rep” on an organization’s website.
Thus, there are two key benefits from making it easy for customers to complain:
1) The customers do not get angrier and more upset from the additional frustrations of trying to contact your organization.
2) You have more opportunities to fix initial, small problems before they evolve into larger and harder to resolve ones.
Part of your complaint management strategy needs to emphasize to all employees, especially the first tier and second tier staff who routinely have to deal with 90% of customer complaints, that service recovery starts with how they react to complaints.
Unfortunately, for too many organizations the initial reaction to a customer complaint is either defensive (trying to push the blame back onto the customer) or process driven (having a focus on a speedy resolution so that the frontline service staff can rapidly move onto the next customer complaint).
This approach often has unintended negative consequences, as customers end up feeling that they have been handled in a non-personalized fashion or have been quickly served so that another customer’s situation can take priority. This is not to say that speed and prompt resolutions are not appreciated; however it is important to understand that the manner in which swift results are delivered can be perceived as dehumanizing and robotic.
A good example of this is when an organization’s email autoresponder system sends out the highly depersonalizing “thank you for your inquiry, we will get back to you promptly” message when an email of complaint is sent via the organization’s website.
Please note: an email (or letter) of complaint is not an inquiry. It is an attempt to get a humanized and customized resolution to a situation that your customer finds unpalatable. It should not be responded to in the same manner as an email asking a general product or service question.
Additionally, in the most unfortunate situations, another unintended negative consequence of the focus on speed is that the customer actually walks away feeling unheard and that his or her true, underlining complaint was ignored, overlooked, or not fully understood. The result is that customers feel it is difficult to voice their complaints to the organization, and may end up deciding that it is far easier to take their business elsewhere than to continue dealing with an organization that fails to listen and comprehend.
It is for this reason that I advocate changing “customer service staff” into “customer satisfaction staff,” who are then measured on their abilities to deliver complete satisfaction to customers, rather than by quantitative indicators such as the number of calls handled, the number of customers served, and the average time per service transaction.
This is not a matter of semantics, but of a philosophical approach of being fully customer focused and pro-active in the area of customer satisfaction, rather than being reactive and process driven in determining customer service standards.
One interesting thing I have noticed is that customers are more acute listeners and observers when they are angry. In fact, when angered customers notice every little detail about how they are being treated and what steps the organization is taking to settle the dispute. As a result, each and every thing done by someone representing the organization, including outsourced contract staff such as those in call centers, is noted and mentally recorded by upset customers. This is especially true for any attempts to forestall the customer from complaining or to thwart their desires to be fully heard and understood.
Customers willingly play these details back to the next level of management, or to anyone else who will listen ─ including your other customers and prospects ─ at a moment’s notice. This not only lengthens the time it takes to eventually solve the original customer complaint, but it also means the dissatisfactions incurred by the customer while engaged in the settlement process must now also be dealt with. This leads to additional costs to the organization, in terms of both staff hours and the eventual compensation to the customer, as well as an unsatisfying feeling all around for the customer, your staff, and the management personnel involved.
All this could be alleviated, of course, if you simply made it easier for customers to complain in the first place.
One of my personal marketing cornerstones is that preventing customer complaints is better than resolving them. Such prevention, however, must come through quality products, services, procedures, processes, policies, and staff. This does not imply that you should prevent customer complaints from being fully voiced and understood.
When something goes wrong, it is best to hear about it. Only the problems your organization hears and knows about are fixable.
Handling customer complaints properly impacts all current and future customers ─ and starts with processes, procedures, and systems that make it easy for such complaints to be communicated to your organization.
So, make it easy and convenient for your customers to complain. You will be glad you did. For the benefits will be for you and the organization to reap.
KEY POINT: make it easy for customers to complain to your organization.
TAKING ACTION: how are customer complaints handled in your organization? Are they processed and handled as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then forgotten? What can be done so that customer complaints are fully voiced and understood?
What steps are needed to turn the efficient handling of complaints into learning opportunities for your organization?
How is customer service monitored and measured in your organization? What does your customer service “scorecard” look like? Does it include measurements for how lessons from the frontline points of customer interaction are circulated to other staff, used in training courses, and incorporated into new employee orientation programs?
This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in Kindle and paperback formats at Amazon.