There’s a bright side to unhappy customers? Absolutely!

A few weeks back, some friends from out of town joined me in Madison for a birthday celebration. We chose one of my favorite downtown restaurants and ordered up wine, lobster bisque, Wagyu steak, and high expectations. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, our table was just jinxed. Our poor waitress just couldn’t seem to get things right, but since I was enjoying the company of lifelong friends, I wasn’t too annoyed.

In fact, if it weren’t for one brazen gal, the waitress would have never known we were unhappy. According to a 2012 Better Business Bureau study, only 28% of unhappy customers actually tell the company they’re dissatisfied. In addition, 30% of those customers will simply not return to the business. Can you imagine losing 30% of your customers … and never knowing why?

It’s all about expectations

If you were able to listen to complaint calls to the BBB, you wouldn’t have to listen long to hear a pattern. Every dissatisfied customer’s experience can be boiled down to one concept: expectations. What the business offered wasn’t good enough, fast enough, cheap enough, or easy enough. And the yardstick that customer is measuring the business against is his or her own expectations. Once your business understands this, you’re golden.

So how do you match expectations to reality?

One of the easiest ways to prevent creating an unhappy customer is to be completely transparent in your business dealings. Forget the fine print. Instead, clearly explain exactly what’s going to happen. Of course, you want to include best-case scenarios (who wouldn’t want to hear the cabinets could be ready in as little as four weeks?), but you should also explain what would be typical. In fact, it may be in your best interest to emphasize the longest delivery time and the highest price, because underpromising gives you a better shot at overdelivering. Meet or exceed expectations and guess who ends up the hero of our story. You guessed it: your business.



Despite your best efforts, the customer is unhappy

Donald Porter, VP of British Airways, is quoted regularly as saying, “Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.” To see the bright side, just imagine that inside each unhappy customer there is a lifelong, loyal customer waiting to come out. Rather, you should think of a messed up customer experience as an opportunity – an opportunity you wouldn’t have had if the transaction had been uneventful.

Here’s how to fix what’s wrong

On the BBB complaint form, we ask, “What do you think the company should do to resolve the complaint?” You’d be surprised to know that many times the customer simply wants an apology. That’s great news for you, because apologies are free. So you can use them without breaking your budget.

In addition, remember to put the right employees in the role of customer service. Admit that some people simply can’t deal with anger without getting angry themselves. Anger on the part of your employee will cost you that customer, without a doubt. Also, once you have the right people in the job, make sure you give them the power to fix things that are wrong. Empower your employees to offer concessions in order to preserve a customer.

Most importantly, remember that a customer can turn from irate and unhappy to happy and loyal simply because he or she believes you tried your absolute best to make things right.

Kimberly Hazen is the regional director for the southwest region of the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau. In her role, she works to advance marketplace trust between buyers and sellers and to promote informed buying decisions.

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