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November 16, 2016

I Just Got a Letter from an Unhappy Customer - and I Love It

It's easy to love praise, but seeing customer complaints as a gift is the best way to strengthen your business


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Who didn't love the Chicago Cubs' incredible success story? (Okay, who outside of Cleveland...) After 108 years, the habitual underdogs came roaring back to win the World Series and have been showered in well-deserved praise ever since. If I were their coach, Joe Maddon, I'd be taking time during the off season to celebrate winning with my team, but I'd also be looking forward to when the excitement starts to fade and critical whispers about our bench, strategy or performance start to surface. That's because listening for criticism and paying attention to complaints can mean the difference between a second championship or a one-and-done record. The same principle applies to your business.

I love customer complaints. When your company has a taste of real success, the praise can blind you to problems that may be developing. It's easy to imagine how. After years of struggling as a small business trying to make payroll and just keep the lights on, an industry award or a magazine cover story can brighten the mood in the office. A lack of complaints makes a lot of companies happy--no news is good news, right?

Wrong. There are always areas where you can do better, and if your customers don't tell you what they are, who will?

Of course you have to celebrate winning, whether it's an earned award or a profitable quarter. At G Adventures, we give ourselves a pat on the back at least once a year with a specially scheduled day that we call Celebrate Winning, when we give our people access to fun perks like free hotdogs and haircuts, and sometimes even massages.

On the flip side, you also need to see customer complaints for what they are - opportunities -- and to give your employees the freedom to do the same. When you're a successful company, analyzing your mistakes is the only way to grow. That's why, when someone writes me a letter about a frustrating or disappointing experience they have had with our business, I make sure to say, "You think you're complaining, but you've given me a gift--a chance to get better. So I will investigate this."

One such recent complaint came to me in the form of an email from a customer who explained that he had traveled with our company no fewer than eight times, but an interaction with one of our salespeople had left him irked. I forwarded the email to our core management team, and we started asking ourselves: 'What happened?' Inside, I was excited. Under normal circumstances I would never know there was an issue; some people would just stop booking trips with us and we wouldn't know why.

In this example, if I had found out that one of our call center employees simply told a loyal customer, 'I'm sorry, I can't solve your problem', it wouldn't necessarily indicate a deficiency on the part of that individual. It could, however, reveal a crack in the system where she works. If this employee didn't feel empowered within her role to do the right thing in that moment to satisfy a valued customer, we should carefully examine the reasons and be grateful to learn what they are.

Unpacking customer complaints in this way is not about creating a witch-hunt atmosphere. It's about giving more control to your people, and giving them the freedom to do what they believe is right.

I'm far from the only business leader who is comfortable with complaints, and even grateful for them. You can usually tell the companies that most value critical feedback by looking at their social media accounts and seeing which ones respond with respect and speed.

Customers notice. According to the last American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, more than half of consumers surveyed said they feel companies have generally improved their response times to complaints over social media channels in recent years. That matters, especially when you consider that two out of three of those same consumers said they would spend as much as 14 percent more money with a company that demonstrates excellent customer service, but they would tell twice as many people about a negative experience with a business vs. a positive one. That's not the kind of ripple effect any entrepreneur wants to see.

To be sure, there are customer complaints that are purely vitriolic and not especially constructive. Some call them 'trolls'. One example I always mention is the customer who demanded a refund because it rained during the two-week trip. We can't control the weather, obviously, but even with a complaint like that, we still reach out and try to do something to make the customer feel heard and appreciated.

The truth is, separating the trolls from the legitimate complaints is easy if you take the time to listen and investigate. Unhappy customers can be the best source of honest feedback your business will get. Listening to them could put you the path to your next growth milestone.


Copyright 2016 Mansueto Ventures. All rights reserved. From http://www.inc.com. By Bruce Poon Tip, Founder, G Adventures.
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