The Complaining Customer

111968975The complaining customer – we just can’t stand them!

Well, most of us can’t stand them.  The reality is that business organizations should love them.  You see, a complaining customer tells you where you can improve.  They actually come forward and show us where we make mistakes.

But, most of the time, people hate to hear the complaints.  What is worse is that even if we did love to hear the complaints, most of us wouldn’t hear them anyway.

First, a few facts you should know about people who complain.  Most of the time, when people have a complaint, they complain to everyone else rather than the person or people who caused the complaint.  A few years ago there was a study commissioned by the White House Office of Consumer Affairs.  The group that performed the study, TARP, the Technical Assistance Research Program, found that in an average business, 96% of people who have a complaint, don’t complain – at least to the people who they do business with.  This means that for every 26 complaints that are out there, we are only hearing from one.  What do the other 25 do?  They complain to their friends, associates and neighbors, and not only do they not come back, but ultimately they lose customers.

Keep in mind that the businesses surveyed were “average” or “typical” front line business.  Your business (hopefully) may be far off these numbers and rate much better.

But, there is good news in all of this.  If you resolve your customers’ complaints, you will keep them most of the time.  But first you have to know there is a complaint.  So, how can we find those complainers?

Well, most likely customers won’t tell us, so, we have to ask them. It is that simple.  Call them up or ask them in person.  Actively solicit feedback to find out what they are thinking.  And when you find a problem or complaint, resolve it on the spot.

I’m reminded of a story that Cavett Robert tells.  A little boy walked into an ice cream parlor, sat down at the counter and ordered a chocolate shake.  The older gentleman that took the order told the boy it would be just a few minutes.  The little boy jumped off his stool and went to a pay-phone.  He dialed a number and a lady answered the phone.

The boy said, “Hello Mrs. Jones, do you need your lawn cut today?”

“No,” said Mrs. Jones.

“Do you already have someone that cuts it for you?”  the boy asked.

“Yes I do,” she replied.

“Does he do a good job for you?” the boy asked.

“Yes, he does a great job,” Mrs. Jones replied.

“Well, thank you for your time,” the boy said, and he hung up.

The boy walked back to the counter where the older gentleman was just putting his chocolate shake on the counter.

The man said to the little boy, “Sorry about that.”

The boy asked, “Sorry about what?”

“It is obvious,” the man said. “You didn’t get the job.”

The boy looked at him and said, “Oh no mister. I got the job. I’ve always had the job. I am just making sure I’m doing a good job!”

Don’t think that simply fixing the problem guarantees that the customer will come back. If you go to dinner at a restaurant and your meal comes out over-cooked, what usually happens? If you complain, most of the time the waiter will replace the meal. So the problem is fixed. Will that get the guest back to the restaurant? It might, but take it a step further. Maybe the waiter will take that meal off of the bill as a way of apologizing for the inconvenience. Will that get the customer back? Maybe, but take it even a step further. The goal here is not just to fix the problem, but to give the customer a reason to want to come back and give the restaurant another try. The waiter or manager can give the guest a card that gives a free appetizer or dessert the next time the guest dines at the restaurant. That might do the trick. It sometimes takes more than simply fixing a problem to get the customer to come back. Sometimes they have to be given a reason.

First and foremost we need to make sure we are hearing the complaints that our customers have, and the easiest way is to ask. No one is perfect. No company is perfect. So find out what those imperfections might be. Ask the customer, and they will tell you. If you don’t ask, you may never know. And, when you hear about a problem, fix it. And make sure you give that customer a reason to come back so you can do it right the next time. Take that moment of misery and turn it into a MOMENT OF MAGIC.



2 thoughts on “The Complaining Customer”

  1. Kira Thomsen-Cheek

    Sorry, Shep – but I cannot for the life of me figure out the point of that story about the little boy and the chocolate shake. Did the punch line get cut off?

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