Riddell: Mistreated customers spread gripes on Web

Riddell: Mistreated customers spread gripes on Web

May 4th, 2010 by John Riddell Jr. in Business Diary

A few years ago I wrote a column about customer service and how a dissatisfied customer will, on average, tell about 10 others of his or her bad experience.

Totally unanticipated at the time of the writing, an executive with a major automobile manufacturer with whom I was having a major quality issue, agreed to have a face-to-face meeting with me. Apparently in the automobile industry, just the fact that this fellow had agreed to meet me was an anomaly as the major carmakers have rules and procedures built up to almost guarantee no direct contact with a dissatisfied customer.

Nonetheless the fellow agreed to meet me and I was very surprised to see a copy of my aforementioned article on his desk. I asked him if he had had an opportunity to read it. He confirmed that he had and even said he enjoyed it. While I did not for a moment believe that he enjoyed it, I conveyed to him that I was on No. 6 of dissatisfied recount-

ing, and whether I went on to No. 7 was dependent on how our discussion went.

He said he fully understood.

I left very satisfied with both the resolution and his professional competency.

I relay this event for two reasons. While everyone acknowledges that the competitive world is getting even more so, companies continue to devise and implement policies that are almost guaranteed to result in dissatisfied customers.

It is pretty well accepted within the world of buyers that quality problems will arise, but the key is how they are resolved. Some companies see these events as opportunities to solidify, indeed enhance, their relationship with a customer. Others see them as thinly veiled adversarial confrontations. Obviously, one approach encourages ongoing business, one does not. This is often an area where a small start up can positively distinguish itself against older, more established companies.

The second observation is that the old "Tell 10 Others" no longer applies. In the world of instant texting, blogs, twitters, tweets and even just regular e-mails, the ability to share bad experiences is mind boggling. Instead of 10, think of a hundred, a thousand or even more, folks all now aware of some terrible injustice that has been perpetrated upon an innocent purchaser of some product or service. It certainly raises the stakes for any business when it comes to addressing customer expectations.

But we know that all customer complaints are not equal and, unfortunately, there are cheaters and liars who are trying to get something for nothing. While the verbal "Tell 10 Others" has a component of trust in both the sender and the receiver (think how many times you have gone to a restaurant that one of your trusted friends told you that the food was bad and the service was worse).

By and large, no such compact exists in the cyber world. Fortunately, most readers of such information also know this but there is always that suspicion that where there is smoke there might just be some fire. The best way to counter this is to ensure that everyone in your company understands the critical importance of satisfied customers and then train, trust and hold accountable each to address this need to the best of their abilities.

While not every customer is right, they are still a customer and how they are treated speaks volumes about your company.

John F. Riddell Jr., director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Growth-Hamilton County, writes every other Tuesday about entrepreneurs and their impact on companies and the marketplace. Submit comments to his attention by writing to Business Editor John Vass Jr., Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at business@timesfreepress.com.