Corporate culture can breed an ostrich mentality. Companies are so preoccupied with highlighting the positive that they bury their head in the sand whenever they see a problem.
Though social media shame and growing customer choice are making this less common, some businesses still choose to ignore customer complaints or not engage with bad reviews posted on their social media channels. But that is just no longer a viable long-term strategy — and an entrepreneur who has started a small business knows this is doubly true if your brand is not a household name.
This is why I now embrace negative customer feedback. I no longer hope it disappears but instead sees it as a golden business opportunity. The key is to start using the (free!) information that customers provide as a launchpad to learn, adapt and improve.
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Those of us in online sales know how fickle buyers are. And this applies everywhere. Outside of a few industries (some utilities, cable television providers, and mobile cell carriers in select areas), customers now have so many options when they choose to buy goods or services. That makes retention harder than ever. All it takes is one bad experience to lose a customer for life.
On the other hand, a problem can create an opportunity. I have seen many instances where a customer is angry over a relatively minor complaint — but then it gets resolved quickly, professionally and with an apologetic, accommodating attitude. Not only are they pleased by the one-time encounter, but the relationship they feel to the brand is actually strengthened. They end up not begrudgingly continuing to be a customer but enthusiastically buying again — and again. This isn’t my experience, but a finding backed up by research from PricewaterhouseCoopers.
These days, especially among younger customers, I have found that the preferred level of interaction with companies is typically “never.” But if they are forced to have a conversation, and the issue gets resolved, this is not a time to think about the small expense that the resolution will cost. This is a rare opportunity to earn some real loyalty that could last for years.
And given how quick people are to share their experiences on social media, this positive interaction may even get shared on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, providing invaluable organic promotion for your brand. At first, I was confused (and a bit jealous) when I saw brands in our industry get thanked for taking the time to address minor concerns from Twitter users. Now our company has stolen the idea, and we see this happen rather often. It’s certainly cheaper than paying for ads — and the stats say it leads to more engagement.
Data & Analytics
Of course, it’s not enough to merely reply to individual customers. While it is possible to learn lessons based on single instances, real business intelligence comes from volume. Like many other small businesses, I have never been able to keep up with the task. Even when I have tried ad-hoc methods to measure feedback, it has been inefficient and difficult to gain knowledge.
To get a real, 360-degree look at public perception, companies should track and analyze complaints using analytics tools that can deliver functional, actionable insights about customer complaints and pain points.
All this means is you’re better off calling in the pros. For us, it has been affordable — and, in many ways, invaluable — to partner with a virtual contact center that provides robust, modern tools that assess how well we are meeting customers’ needs. The best use a multi-channel approach that ensures you are covered on Facebook, Twitter or wherever your customers might be.
With the contact center at the helm of customer experience management, our sales reps and marketing team are freed up to focus on their core competencies — the things that drive revenue and growth. And we can rest easy knowing that the complaints are not just being heard, addressed and resolved, but tracked, charted and analyzed. Now, it has become second nature to look at trend reports about our products and discuss any changes that our community of customers tell us to need to be made.
Putting It All Together
It may be a cliché, but now more than ever, I have come to accept that the customer is always right. Some people want to complain about anything, but more often than not, especially when you hear the same concerns over and over, there is some validity to the cries of the crowd.
This doesn’t mean you should let the masses run your business. I like to think that we have become successful by crafting a specific vision and a unique culture that we have stuck with. But when it comes to product features and delivery models, listen to the people who are spending their hard-earned money.
And most important of all, do so intelligently. Chart complaints through analytics and let the data guide the way. Customers’ complaints are mostly breadcrumbs. If you see one or two strewn on the road, then they might be nothing more than some stray litter. But if you identify an obvious pattern, let that lead your way.