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Complain, Complain
 By JoAnna Brandi

Human nature is funny. Put a person in a room with a "specialist" and they tend to want a little bit of free advice. My friend Robin, a lawyer, says whenever she goes to a party someone usually asks for a little legal advice. My friend Steven, a doctor, says it's always "By the way Doc, I've got this pain..." And me, the Customer Care Lady, I get the customer abuse stories. It's hard for people to resist telling me the last time they got left by the airline, or the last time a bank teller ignored them.

Although we are constantly being reminded in the business press and by our consultants about the importance of treating our customers well and adding value to their experience --- use your own experience as a guide -- how are we doin'? If we are like the rest of the nation, worse then ever! In fact, according to the American Society for Quality Control (ASQC) the customer satisfaction index has been steadily dropping since 1994. And according to a study by Yankelovich Partners, 90% of customers say they pay enough to get the highest level of service, but 64% believe that the service reps they deal with don't care about their needs. We still seem to be lacking the consciousness, and the skills, that help us create a positive experience for the customer - every time.

As a customer, I long for more positive experiences, and occasionally do complain when I am not satisfied. And I'm usually bewildered by the less than appreciative stance companies take when I go out of my way to comment on their service. Shouldn't we be grateful for complaints? A complaining customer is doing what many companies hire consultants and mystery shoppers to do - critique the service. Does your company embrace and encourage the customers to complain? Have you made the process of getting feedback form the customer easy ( and maybe even delightful?) Do you listen intently to what they have to say, correct the problem and then follow up with your appreciation?

Actually, it's the customers who don't complain that you really have to worry about. Customers who don't feel like expending the energy to confront you, or write a letter, or be bold enough to say to a sassy clerk "There's no reason for you to treat me so rudely", just slip quietly away - and with them they take their future business.

Customers too weary to put in yet another complaint that doesn't get addressed are the ones that might just be bad-mouthing you to their business buddies at the next networking luncheon. In fact studies show that for every customer that complains 26 more have the same complaint and are not voicing it, and of course, we all know that an unhappy customer tells more then twice as many people about the experience than he would if he were happy about it. So much for all the good will you were trying to build with that last advertising campaign.

One of the reasons customers don't complain is because they have tried in the past and haven't gotten much satisfaction from the experience. What is your expectation when you complain? That someone will listen patiently, not be defensive, apologize, solve your problem and take the time to say thank you. That's what mine is. Was that your experience that last time you complained to one of your vendors? Even more importantly was that your customer's experience the last time they complained to you?

I urge you to take this opportunity to look at the process you have designed to deal with your customer's complaints (and feedback) and see if it reflects the level of customer caring and appreciation you would most like to portray. From my experience as a consultant, researcher, and writer on the subject of Customer Care - my guess is your process might benefit from a little improvement in the new year.


JoAnna Brandi, known as "The Customer Care Lady", is the Founder of JoAnna Brandi & Company, Inc. (formerly Working Relationships, Inc.) which began as a Customer Care company committed to helping companies build better relationships with their customers through the strategic use of marketing, consulting, research and training. Today Ms. Brandi spends most of her time motivating audiences to take better care of their customers and employees. For more information email: joanna@customerretention.com or visit www.customerretention.com







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