I recently discovered a national company that has an internal policy that directs staff to not respond to customer complaints. This is a pretty big company that has locations all across Canada, and I was privileged enough to come across this information during a meeting with them. A little confused, I asked them to elaborate and essentially the policy is that if a customer complains through email, they are not to provide any response whatsoever, not even indicating that the email was received. Their rational was that any type of response could be interpreted that they were admitting guilt. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed to hear that any company would have such an asinine policy.
What this company doesn’t realize is that the longer it takes them to acknowledge or respond to issues, the more frustrated the customer becomes. The more frustrated the customer, the more angry they get, the less likely they are to return, and more likely they are to tell as many people as possible about the experience. This archaic style of management is built on fears of liability, lawsuits and costs to resolve an issue. The challenge is that today’s customer is much more savvy and communicates to many more people than they ever did before. As an example, before the internet and social media, if you had a bad experience, you might tell your family, friends and co-workers when you saw them in person. You weren’t likely to write a letter to the local newspaper or television station to tell them about a bad customer service experience – and even if you did, they wouldn’t likely print it anyways.
Now-a-days, if someone has a bad customer service experience they almost immediately write about it in a blog or on facebook, in online reviews, in tweets, etc. which is instantly accessible to millions of people worldwide. The longer it takes to resolve, the more comments and exposure the post receives ultimately leaving the company with more and more negative publicity. Today’s internet savvy customers have created their own online community in which they trust the word of the people. They recognize the difference between PR content and feedback from “real” customers, and of course – the customer is always right in another customer’s eyes. For example; have you ever decided against staying at a hotel because of their online customer reviews? Many people I know including myself make purchasing decisions based on what they read online.
Unfortunately, these type of policies stem from old-school management that refuse to keep up with the times and educate themselves on a new generation of customer. These strategies may have worked in the past, but can certainly put a dent in sales going forward. Even if one potential customer chooses a competitor as a result of reading an online post, they have lost. In their view however, it’s less hassle to simply sink more money into traditional marketing in order to attract new customers based on a price point, rather than dealing with a complaint. I can understand that some customers are unreasonable, but creating a policy that paints every customer with the same brush is also unreasonable. If you expect your customers to walk into your establishment believing that you are different than the completion, than you also need to extend the same courtesy to your customers by creating policies that don’t punish customers with legitimate complaints.
Most customers are forgiving, so simply admitting that you made a mistake, apologizing and doing your best to resolve the problem is usually enough. Not every customer wants a freebie, compensation or other appeasements. In fact, most customers want to develop long lasting relationships with a company that they trust. Nothing builds trust more than admitting that you made a mistake. Don’t be afraid to do so, because if you don’t and you ignore the problem, you may lose more than just the one customer that you didn’t deal with. What’s the harm? The customer writes about how great your service was, how you helped them, and most importantly how much they recommend you? (Otherwise known as turning lemons into lemonade).