Bold announcement: There is no difference between “reputation management,” “marketing,” and “branding.” They are all there to help businesses drive curiosity, build trust, and make people want to say “Shut up and take my money!” Your brand and marketing message is your promise to the public that you will deliver value that exceeds your asking price.
However, you can’t persist in top-down influencer efforts, such as media, massive ad campaigns, and press releases, to try to drown out what people are actually saying about you on the ground floor. The key to appeasing the masses is showing them how you treat the individual.
Taking care of your customers is extremely important. Customers are the life-blood of the company. If they weren’t there, your company wouldn’t be either. It sounds so obvious, doesn’t it? But we get so caught up in our marketing efforts we sometimes lose focus of how everything fits together. Customers should be treated like a beloved celebrity or world leader. You should hold their hand through the entire purchase process and make certain that they were totally taken care of to the point of loyalty, not just satisfaction.
“’Satisfied’ customers can become easily dissatisfied, while ‘loyal’ customers will fight to defend you.” –Sean Burrows
But what if these dissatisfied customers complain? Welcome it.
“One of the surest signs of a bad or declining relationship is the absence of complaints from the customer. The customer is either not being candid or not being contacted. Probably both. Communication is impaired. The absence of candor reflects the decline of trust, the deterioration of the relationship.” –Theodore Levitt in The Marketing Imagination
Perception needs to be changed in relation with complaints. Bill Cates refers to complaints as “Jackpots.” They are opportunities to increase customer loyalty and business.
“The Chinese word for crisis is composed of two picture-characters. One means danger and the other means opportunity. Every complaint and every problem is a jackpot” –Referral Coach
Why are complaints so important? Referral Coach states four reasons why you want complaints:
- If they don’t complain you won’t know, and can’t help fix the problem. The average business never hears from 96% of unhappy customers.
- If they’re having a problem, then it’s quite likely that others are having it as well, and you need to fix the system. For every complaint heard, the average company has 26 other customers with the same problem.
- Research indicates that if they don’t complain, they are likely to go to your competition. It costs six times more to attract new customers than to keep old ones.
- They are telling lots of other people about their bad experience. The average unhappy customer will remember the incident for 23 years.
Statistics from Technical Assistance Research Programs Institute and Referral Coach
- They care about your product. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be emotional and they wouldn’t be reaching out.
- They are willing to give you their time.Those who complain typically want to engage in some sort of dialogue.
- They chose you to begin with. They wouldn’t be customers if they hadn’t made a decision to buy your product.
- They have knowledge about the overall product experience.They have experienced your marketing, your sales process, and what it’s like to begin using your product. They have been through at least part, if not most, of the product lifecycle.
- They probably don’t want to leave you. If they did, they wouldn’t be disgruntled customers, they would be ex-customers!
So how do we deal with complaints? Bill Gates and many others have come up with several things to do, all of which have been summarized into the following steps:
- Genuinely say “I’m sorry.” These are powerful words that can help change people’s attitudes.
- Honor their perspective. Show interest and that you care. Put yourself in their shoes. Listen. Don’t cut them off.
“You can disagree with another person’s opinion. You can disagree with their doctrines. You can’t disagree with their experience.” –Krista Tippet
- Don’t get defensive. Top Sales World says that in a survey to discover why people changed their supplier/vendor, they learned that the top four reasons were:
- Developed a good relationship with another supplier (5%),
- Less expensive products elsewhere (9%),
- Unhappy with service/product (18%), and
- Because of the poor attitude of the supplier (68%).
A complaint is an opportunity to turn customers around. The customers that complain the most can become your most loyal, depending on how you treat them. When they complain they aren’t saying “Goodbye,” they’re giving you another chance by saying “Please help me.”
- Don’t make excuses or argue. Always stay calm. The customer knows you personally aren’t responsible for the problem, but they assign you the responsibility to fix it. Instead of saying “I don’t know,” say “Let me find out for you.” Instead of “I can’t help you,” say “Let me forward you to the appropriate specialist.” (Business 2 Community)
“Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.” –Benjamin Franklin
- Fully understand the problem. Ask questions and repeat back what you think you’ve heard. Responses such as “Absolutely, you deserve quick, efficient service,” and “I understand” really do win over the customer. Call them by name and focus on the problem, not on them.
- Tell them what you’ll do next. When they see you take immediate and logical action they feel their needs have been handled competently.
- Thank them for bringing the concern to your attention right away.
“Always keep in mind that the customer didn’t have to come to you at all. He could have simply taken his business to your competitor. When a customer gives you the opportunity to recover their service, be grateful.” –Ron Kaufman, Author of the New York Time Bestseller NY Times Bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet
- Get back to them right away. Don’t leave them hanging. The faster you solve the problem, the less damage done and the more forgiving people will be.
- Follow through and follow up. Ron Kaufman says “Sears takes recovery seriously. The company now has a ‘blue ribbon team’ of specially educated and empowered staff to handle recoveries. Once an issue goes to them, anything they recommend is what gets done. They have full support from the top down. Sears does this because the company understands that a successfully recovered customer can become your most loyal advocate and ally.”
Many times tokens of appreciation can make a big difference. Reward complainers with something of a high perceived value for them, but inexpensive or free for you. Nick Usborne (http://www.clickz.com/ ) shared the story of when he rented a movie from Blockbuster and avoided paying the rental fees. Blockbuster sent him a letter requesting payment, but he disregarded it. He received a second letter with a paragraph highlighted in bright yellow. Expecting a problem, he read it and was shocked to read something to the equivalent of “Come by and settle your account by the end of the week and get one Latest Release video free.” Smart move by Blockbuster to get what they want (payment) and reward the complainer with something of little cost to them (the video). Tokens can be simple, sincere, personalized thank you cards, gift vouchers, cards at Christmas, social gatherings for key clients, etc.
“By using a customer complaint to uplift your service, you not only transform that shopper’s experience from a negative one to a positive one; you turn him or her into an evangelist for your organization.” –Ron Kaufman
Use Judo. Before you start thinking about karate-chopping that complainer, think of it in Judo terms, and not boxing. Boxing is straight-at-you and pummel-you-to-the-ground.
“In Judo, you work with someone else’s motions to create a desired result. You use another person’s speed and energy to spin him around and then end up together on the same side. When you show a customer you understand what they value, you’re catching them off guard with your own movement. They don’t expect you to tell them that they’re right. Suddenly, just as you might do in judo, you’ve avoided a defensive confrontation and you can spin them. In Judo, you’d spin them to the ground. In customer service, you use the opportunity to show the customer that you’re now both on the same side and you can work together.” –Kaufman
Complaining customers can be turned around towards becoming loyal ones.
These loyal, now-happy customers can now be asked to write positive reviews on Google or other sites so that when you do have that one crazy, irrational, grumpy customer with nothing good going on in their lives writes a one 1-star review in Yelp, they look stupid because you have been loving every single other customer to death in the real world and collecting feedback for weeks, months, or even years. All those four and five star reviews make that single one or two star reviewer look like the crazy person that they are.
Business reputation always goes back to the customers. Where there are happy customers, there is a happy business. Take advantage of those “Jackpots,” or complaints, and turn them around to your advantage.