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How Industry Leaders Turned Customer Complaints on Their Head

by Erica Nelson on December 11, 2014

Customer Complaints

When a business has encountered rejection or failed to provide an outstanding product, the bar is set even higher to delight your client—and sometimes buyer’s remorse will make the client regret the sale. That reaction can hurt your reputation, but it doesn’t have to. Using inspiration from industry leaders, we’ll give you some strategies on how handle customer complaints—and, perhaps more importantly, how to preempt those complaints through constant, connected interaction with your customers and clients.

Be Responsive:

Many companies use social media as a platform for advertising themselves, failing to recognize its utility as an effective communication channel. Employing a system for social media management can help you monitor your client relationships and respond to customer complaints in a timely fashion. In 2010, Southwest Airlines requested that director Kevin Smith leave the plane as his size was allegedly over the safety policy and would need to have purchased two seats. The event lasted for six days and included 2,043 blog mentions, 5,133 forum posts, and 15,528 tweets—but it still could have been a lot worse. Why? Southwest responded just 16 minutes after Kevin Smith first tweeted his anger at the airline’s seat policy. How did they do it? Highly responsive social monitoring.

Listen to What Customers Suggest:

Try to see any issue from a customer’s point of view and, within reason, do what they suggest. In 2010, Ann Taylor LOFT debuted a pair of silk cargo pants and showed them on a tall, thin, blonde woman. Customers took to social media, saying the pants were “not universally flattering” and would “look great [only] if you’re 5’10” and stick thin like the model in the photo.” Some customers also suggested that LOFT show the pants on “real women.” The next day, they did. LOFT took photos of “real women” from within its design, styling, and marketing staffs wearing the silk pants. The women they selected ranged from sizes 2 to 12, and from 5’3″ to 5’10″—and the response was outstanding. Even if some women didn’t ultimately buy the pants, they complimented the company on their immediate response to the issue and the sensitivity with which they handled the complaints.

Just as important as listening to what customers suggest is listening to what they ask, discussing what they care about, and opening a forum for dialogue. In a blog post overviewing six B2B companies who make excellent use of Twitter, Econsultancy discusses how Adobe is quick to answer customer questions; how Intel uses hashtags on subjects that they anticipate will interest their audience; and how HubSpot, a leader in inbound marketing, invites conversation among its partners about industry-related topics. The first step in turning customer complaints into compliments involves reducing the need for customers to complain in the first place. It’s about building a rapport with customers and being attentive to them, so when they do voice their opinions or words of valuable critique, they can count on being heard—and there’s no escalation of the problem, only a stronger relationship being built.

Admit and Amend:

Sometimes a company is blatantly in the wrong. It didn’t deliver on a promise or expected result. Whatever the case, the best course of action is for the company to admit they dropped the ball or didn’t clearly portray accurate customer expectations and make amends for the behavior. For example, when Amazon came to realize its Fire Phone was a dud, selling just 35,000 units during its first 30 days on the market versus Apple iPhone’s 10 million units sold in the first three days, the company cut the price tag on the device from $199 to just 99 cents.

Exceed Expectations:

Explaining why your company does something a certain way is a good step in the right direction, but sometimes that isn’t enough. Take it one step further from what Southwest did in the example above by doing more than just explaining the policy and apologizing. While getting in front of a situation is always a good idea, companies can turn customer complaints into compliments by exceeding expectations. For instance, look at T-Mobile. When unlimited data became only a grandfathered plan option at most major providers, nearly as mystical as rent-controlled housing, T-Mobile began offering unlimited data and even limited free data every month on a selection of devices.

Stay Engaged:

Whether you are selling a service or a product, the companies that turn complaints from customers into compliments share one very important characteristic: they stay engaged. This is true in everything from major sporting teams—like when Shelly Sterling sold the LA Clippers for $2 billion to Steve Ballmer on the condition she stay involved with the team—to real estate deals—like when the home seller buys a few months’ lawn service or a gift card basket for the new home buyers. Stay involved after the sale until your client gets his or her intended result. Nurture them into becoming advocates for your company.

Some businesses take customer engagement a step further with an NPS, or Net Promoter System, which hinges on interpreting and ranking the value of each customer and putting more investment (which often comes in the form of engagement, time, and resources) into the ones identified as “promoters.” Under the NPS model, businesses are encouraged to tailor their approach based on industry and who their customer constituents are—whether they’re business owners, operational users, or another group. The best use of an NPS also involves preempting potential client (or customer) dissatisfaction by determining what common points of frustrations are—by initiating a dialogue to ask them—and incorporating their feedback into business decisions and information to integrate with other data gathered.

The strategies outlined above are, of course, only intended to be a starting point and a source of customer service inspiration. Your industry and your business will have your own best practices when it comes to nurturing customers, managing customer complains, and reversing negative customer experiences.

Apply Strategies:

As you likely noticed, most of the above examples relate to consumer-focused companies, and it’s true that discussions about customer experience often center around them since they tend to be the most familiar. Still, the strategies outlined here translate well to B2B scenarios. Remember, too, that even though a company may be B2B, the people behind social media interactions—on both the business and client end—are individuals, not entire entities. In fact, just as an individual may be responsible for certain business decisions, so too is an individual likely to take to social media (or be vocal elsewhere, including in-person) as themselves rather act as the company for which they work. Imagine, for example, that an IT manager is dissatisfied with his or her business’s Internet provider. It’s likely that if the IT manager vents on Facebook, he or she will be doing it under his own name (whether or not his name is associated with his company), and the “Internet provider” (which, at any given time, is really just a single person) will be interacting with him. Therefore, when implementing social listening, B2B companies should not only be looking for what their clients (as the whole business) are saying, but what individuals are saying as well. A single person can become an advocate for your B2B company or be an unexpectedly powerful voice of criticism.

At D&S Global Solutions, we excel at delivering excellent customer service for ourselves and on behalf our our clients. Whether you need assistance with business collections, staff outsourcing, or any of our other service offerings, we’ll develop solutions specialized for your business and, in the process, work to cultivate and improve your relationship with your clients.

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