Saturday, August 1, 2009

Let Them Complain-And Then Share the Story!

I was attempting a tortuous twist on the misquoted and misattributed "qu'ils mangent de la brioche" for this post, and settled for "Let Them Complain." For years, I have remarked to friends and family, that we seem to increasingly inhabit, reward and cultivate a culture of whining, complaining, lawsuits and general dissatisfaction seeking remedy or simply voice. In my years as a customer consultant, strategist, sales person, etc., I have had numerous opportunities to take courses, get coaching, be "trained" in listening skills, overcoming objections, "getting to yes", ad infinitum/nauseum and have come to the conclusion that there are some people who simply will not be satisfied, no matter what. When I overlay this conclusion with my musings on the increasing ability that our customers have to instantly and globally voice their complaints, I've been suggesting social media and networking strategies and risk assessments as critical components of our customer conversation business practices. The plethora of social medial applications that are available at literally everyone's fingertips are being accessed almost as a virtual running commentary to everyday experience with products and solutions. [The Tweetdeck search that I created around "worst customer service" for my last blog post updates so often I insist virtual whirls of smoke curl from the borders of its column!] So I started thinking if some people are going to complain no matter how diligent our efforts at solving their issue are; no proactive our social media strategy; empowered our front-line customer service personnel; comprehensive our customer relationship net may be: WHY NOT JUST LET THEM COMPLAIN AND PUBLISH IT? What if, after exhausting our best efforts for mutual resolution, we detailed in our blogs, Tweets, Facebook "customer spotlights" the exact nature of our worst customer service complaint; the steps we took to resolve it AND the ultimate dissatisfactory end?

Negative Customer Reference Recruitment-Really

Many of us spend a lot of money, time, and energy recruiting customer references that are willing to participate in case studies, press releases, talk to prospects, or record interviews and testimonials on our behalf telling everybody how wonderful we are. We record this precious evidence any way we can; devise comprehensive ways of cataloging, searching for and representing this proof that we are what we say we are and deliver our solutions and services better than any body else. Our entire focus in the customer reference practice has been the careful cultivation of the positive reference while our customer support/service teams have been attempting to fill the pipeline with current customers that may be eligible for this consideration. What I am proposing is that we utilize the same infrastructure that is in place for identifying and promoting the positive experience reported by our customers to the occasional negative, argumentative, "nothing will make me happy but a full refund" client. Why am I suggesting this? Here are some high level reasons:

  • It should be part of our on-going customer support assessment to collect information about our customers' negative as well as positive experience.
  • We need to know where the gaps are in our service.
  • It is interesting.
  • It may provide much needed comic relief: Consumer complaint to Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines

In light of my continued urging that we consider participation in the broader social media and networking customer conversations that are happening about us and around us, considering proactively publishing a negative customer reference makes sense for some additional strategic reasons. The likelihood that a person who is a chronic complainer will publicly and more vehemently report their experience outside of our 1-800 Call Us environment seems to be gaining nuclear steam. If you have implemented even the "listen" pieces of my suggested social media strategies, you have begun to analyze the customer conversation about your brand, solutions, competitors and general business environment. Hopefully, the conversation is dominated by those suggesting that our products and solutions are considered by others and we have invited those individuals to share the same story again and again. What if we applied the same principles of watchfulness and intervention to the "Worst Customer Experience with Our Brand" TweetDeck Column? What if we invited @IHATEYOU to record the reasons why they were dissatisfied with us, tell their side of the story, and offered to publish it on our website? What if we retweeted them and AGREED that we had messed up. What if we told them that we didn't care if they said that they would never use us again, that we just wanted to be honest with our customers and prospective customers and share that we didn't always perform perfectly? Maybe the following things could happen:

  • Best Case-They return as a customer because they are so shocked; or their deep psychological need to just vent has been satisfied.
  • We truly practice the principles of transparency that the SMN world has been preaching.
  • We avoid the ennui that we may inadvertently be introducing by publishing too many positive customer references.
  • We demonstrate, through the voice of our customers, that we really do do anything that we say we will to try and resolve their issues.
  • "Exposing" ourselves first drastically reduces the tabloid-like effect of our customer's self-filmed and self-published FLIP MINO diatribe against us.

Maybe the old 1940's political slog, "If you can't beat em; join em" applies here. My extremely scientific (J read Google) research into the reasons why people complain basically returned the following:

Complaining. Everyone complains, although clearly some people complain more than others. Even though complaining has negative connotations associated with it, there must be some benefit to complaining or people would not do it so often. Very little research within psychology has examined complaining. Robin M. Kowalski

So my bottom line for this post is:

  • We don't understand why some customers will complain no matter what but they will
  • Social media affords everybody the ability to complain much more "loudly", for longer, and to a "ginormous" audience
  • Worst case, poking a little bit of public fun at ourselves can't hurt anything other than our pride……right?

Regards until next time,


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