Complaints can Bedrock Your Winning Game Plan

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Last month, I wrote about my experience with a difficult-to-open pickle container and provided some insights into how the process of obtaining customer feedback can help with product design improvements. It turns out that many of you had the same experience I had with the redesigned pickle container and expressed their frustration with the package design.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/05/2022 (204 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Last month, I wrote about my experience with a difficult-to-open pickle container and provided some insights into how the process of obtaining customer feedback can help with product design improvements. It turns out that many of you had the same experience I had with the redesigned pickle container and expressed their frustration with the package design.

I summarized the feedback I received and sent a message to the company to share their customers’ complaints about their problematic pickle package. I also included a copy of my article as a reference and validation of the source of the issue. I received a polite and thoughtful reply from a customer service representative explaining the main reason for the package redesign from a vertical jar to a horizontal plastic container was for shipping purposes.

While I understand the functional reason and company benefit for the change, the bottom line is that the plastic container appears to be poorly redesigned for customers. The customer service rep provided images and a video showing how to use a spoon handle to open the container. Unfortunately, the video showed pickle juice spilling on the counter while prying off the lid. One positive note in the response was that the company is redesigning the package to address concerns about it being difficult to open.

If you search “best ways to handle customer complaints” on Google, you will receive almost 14 billion entries. And the top few pages are remarkably similar in their structure of a good response. In summary, start with acknowledging the respondent, validate their issue, offer a solution, and thank them for their important feedback.

Leading companies realize it costs six to eight times as much to gain a new customer as it does to keep an existing customer. Effective customer communication is part of their winning game plan to maintain their customer base. These companies will go deeper in their response because they see an opportunity for product improvement, a personal connection, and building a loyal customer base. When you provide automated and form letter responses to a customer complaint you often increase the customer’s anger. The flip side of this is that automated responses are less expensive and eliminate potentially protracted interactions such as long phone conversations.

In my experience, if you want to improve your business operations, it is important to take the time to understand the source of a complaint, confirm it internally, and then take action to correct the issue within the company, if a correction is required. Despite a company’s best efforts to launch a successful product, not every real life customer situation can be accounted for during testing and validation.

There are three main steps that leading companies will take regarding customer complaints or general feedback. First, respond to the customer quickly and respectfully. We often forget an important adage, which is “the customer isn’t always right, but the customer is always the customer.” The customer can be wrong, and the key is to show an appropriate degree of respect.

Second, the customer must believe that their complaint was properly addressed. Resolving the complaint must be to the satisfaction of the customer not to some arbitrary company policy. Truly customer-centric companies ensure all their employees understand this concept and empower them to make the appropriate decisions. Done correctly at the front line, very few complaints will be escalated to a higher management level. This approach results in more satisfied customers than lost customers.

Finally, leading companies incorporate the review of these complaints into their winning game plan. A careful review of changes for improved performance for the next situation is a critical element of a winning game plan. Simply addressing the complaint with the customer to their satisfaction does not help the company address this issue in the future. A structured process of reviewing and acting on these issues is essential for more than just improving customer satisfaction scores.

If employees are dealing with the same issue on a regular basis and with nothing done to address the root cause, the employees will eventually lose faith in the leadership of their company. At that point, your customer support may diminish because staff will believe, “if the boss doesn’t care, why should I?” While I am not recommending this response by employees, I am stating that I have seen it happen in companies that fail to address an issue properly.

Dealing with customer complaints can be mentally and physically draining for employees. And failure to address the root cause often leads to loss of key staff and customers. Your winning game plan must include a complete solution to supporting your customer service staff to achieve and maintain brand loyalty from your customers.

Tim’s bits: Creating a culture of customer service excellence is demanding work and takes commitment to review, refocus, and adjust product and service delivery, as necessary. Leading companies know that learning from customer service complaints will demonstrate trust to their customers because they listen and make the improvements needed. What are you doing to get proper customer feedback?

Tim Kist

Tim Kist
Columnist

Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.

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