Customer complaints are often a sign of a deeper problem.
When you receive a complaint from a customer, there are essentially two main things you can do to address it:
- Pacify the customer.
- Identify and correct the problem that caused the complaint.
Too many organizations do the first, but never get to the second. And maybe that’s why so few organizations actually make it to the Customer Service Hall of Fame.
I recently had an experience on Delta Airlines that caused me to nearly miss my flight, and waste a lot of time waiting for luggage that never arrived, all because Delta failed to communicate.
Before I stepped of the final leg of my flight, I explained to the pilot what had occurred. He agreed with my concern, and its likely cause, then handed me a business card containing the email address of the Director of Customer Service at Delta. I sent an email to the Director, and described in detail what I believed to have caused the negative experience.
The following day, I received a response from not the Director, but a subordinate. Here’s an excerpt (I've boldened sections for emphasis):
“We appreciate receiving your analysis of our operation. I realize you feel that we could have done better by having our flight attendants announce the connecting gates upon arrival, implement notifications to connecting flights that luggage and passengers are in route, also informing passengers if their checked bags did not make their connecting flight. Many customers share their feedback with us, and these observations oftentimes form the basis for improvements in our service. Be assured I will be forwarding your comments to our Airport Customer Service leadership team for internal follow up and future consideration.
When our service does not meet our customer's expectations, we feel it is important to acknowledge this and appeal for a degree of understanding. As a gesture of goodwill for your suggestions, I have added 2,000 bonus miles to your SkyMiles account. Please allow three business days for the miles to appear. I realize that incentives may not erase the negative impact of your past experiences, but I hope that an immediate recognition of them will symbolize our commitment to a future partnership. “
Delta addressed item number one – they’ve made an effort to placate me by giving me 2,000 bonus miles. Thoughtful as that might have been, it didn't make me feel any better about their ability to deliver a better experience in the future, should a similar situation arise.
It’s been 30 days, and I haven’t heard any more from Delta on this issue.
My cynical side is telling me that Delta hasn't done anything further with the feedback that I provided in that email; I suspect they'll just continue to do things the way they've been doing them, and continue to give out more bonus miles to placate disappointed customers.
That’s no way to achieve excellence.
Any business can reduce complaints and increase satsifaction, delight and loyalty not by giving away free stuff, but by following five key steps each time a complaint is received fromm a customer:
- Listen to the customer – don’t talk, but listen.
- Acknowledge – make sure you fully understand the issue.
- Offer compensation, if appropriate.
- Determine the root cause of the problem that drove the customer to complain.
- Close the loop by telling the customer what you’ve changed, to prevent the problem from recurring.
An infant is a pure and unbiased form of human. When an infant cries, it's communicating that something’s wrong. You can give the baby a pacifier, and it will stop crying for a moment. But unless you address what’s wrong, the discomfort and the crying will return, and deeper issues can occur.
Every time a customer complains, they’re giving you a sign that there may be something wrong with your operations. It’s up to you to find out what’s wrong, correct it, and tell your customer that you’ve taken care of the problem. Complete follow-through will go a long way to improve the experiences you deliver, and the relationships you build. Not to mention the health of your bottom line.