Your Customers Are Complaining. Do Something About It

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Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
I'm about to start a gut renovation of my kitchen, which, of course, is an incredibly stressful - not to mention expensive - project. For cabinets, we got a recommendation for a designer at a local cabinet store. We met with her, got some great ideas, and went home to wait for the quote.

I'm about to start a gut renovation of my kitchen, which, of course, is an incredibly stressful -- not to mention expensive - project. For cabinets, we got a recommendation for a designer at a local cabinet store. We met with her, got some great ideas, and went home to wait for the quote.

After no word for a week, we reached out for an update. Several days later, she finally called and quoted a dollar amount over the phone. I was thrown off. No written quote? No detail? When I asked for more info, she emailed me a fantastic quote that included drawings and details on every component, but had a slightly higher price at the end than what she'd quoted verbally. Odd. Then, as we made changes to the design, this miscommunication pattern repeated. We ultimately decided to get cabinets elsewhere.

I tell you this story not because of the customer experience lessons (such as: set expectations and meet them; be transparent about your pricing; take extra care when you know an experience is stressful and involves large sums of money), but because of what happened after the bad experience. I told my parents. I told my in-laws. I told co-workers. I told some friends. Frankly, I told anyone who asked about the kitchen project.

It turns out my behavior is normal. When we surveyed consumers at the end of last year about the ways they complained about bad service experiences, we found that word of mouth is hands-down the most common complaint method. Among consumers who had unsatisfactory service interactions, more than half told friends or family about their experiences.

There isn't much you can do to capture those casual conversations. But it there's plenty of other feedback you can capture. A whopping 76 percent of consumers who got poor service told us that they provided feedback directly to the company through at least one of five methods (survey, phone call, email, online chat, or letter). Social feedback, though less common, is gaining in popularity; 29 percent of consumers used a social channel to complain, like writing reviews on companies' websites and posting updates on social networking sites.

How do you make sure you're capitalizing on all those complaints? First of all, you want to make it easy for customers to tell you when something went wrong by incorporating feedback mechanisms into all key customer scenarios. Second, you must leverage the unstructured and unsolicited feedback. That means collecting what's trapped in internal systems like call logs, emails, and chat transcripts and using technologies like text analytics to make sense of it. Those tools will also help you get value from open-ended survey comments.

Collecting the data isn't enough. Taking action is critical, and that means both closing the loop with complainers and fixing bad service at its source. Quickly responding to individual customers who provide negative feedback can build loyalty, or at least stop eroding it. But firms also need to make systemic improvements that prevent complaint-worthy problems from occurring in the first place. Look for patterns in the complaints you're receiving to see whether there are underlying processes that can be fixed, and then monitor incoming feedback to make sure the fixes are working.

So, should I tell the cabinet dealer what she did wrong? Maybe I'll just send her this post.

If you want to hear me complain in person, or if you're interested in hearing my speech on customer experience governance, join me at Forrester's Customer Experience Forum West in Los Angeles November 14-15.

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Adele Sage is an Analyst at Forrester Research, serving Customer Experience professionals. She blogs at http://blogs.forrester.com/adele_sage and tweets at @adelesage.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION