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Can we learn more from unhappy customers than happy ones?

Article by Ceri Wheeldon

Particularly in today’s economic climate, can we really afford to not listen to our customers-particularly the unhappy ones!

I recently had cause to complain about what I believed to be appalling service from an estate agent we had retained to sell our home on a sole agency basis. I will not go into details in terms of the catalogue of disasters which led to our frustration and disappointment, but I will share with you some of the aspects as to how our complaint has been dealt with.

Lessons for ANY business

There are elements which are applicable to ANY business.
I was an unhappy customer. Having not been listened to at a local level, I escalated my concerns to senior management at a senior level. My concern was noted and the response fast. I was assured that the manager of the local office would meet with me, review what had been done so far plan a way to move forward.

Six days later the review meeting took place. Unfortunately the outcome was far from satisfactory and more discussions took place with the head office as to how we could be released from our sole agency contract.

Don’t defend bad service

A call from another senior manager was very telling in terms of lessons learned from a customer service perspective. He informed me of all the testimonials they had received from happy clients whose houses they had sold, who they routinely asked to fill in a questionnaire once the sale was complete. I asked what happened to the results of the questionnaires sent out the clients whose properties they took on, but which weren’t sold by them. Silence.

They did not place the same emphasis on feedback from the unhappy clients as they did the happy ones.  I pointed out that if they listened and acted on the negative feedback they could be more successful with more happy customers. They did not want to listen to my concerns as it did not tally with the response with the only ‘happy’ responses they had requested. When mistakes were admitted in respect to our situation, stressing the successes they had with others only served to worsen the situation.  Glossing over the catalogue of disasters – which they admitted were ‘disappointing’ and focussing on the wonderful things they had done for others was very much like waving a red flag to a bull!

Our complaint is now being taken seriously and they are investigating. We have listed our property with another agent.

Learn from unhappy customers

As bad news travels fast, and in today’s social media age, can even big brands afford to be so complacent. With a less than buoyant economy, you would think there would be even more incentive to hang on to every single customer with better service than ever before.

Listen to your unhappy customers – are they highlighting a problem within your own systems? Are there elements pinpointing to better training for staff? If an unhappy customer is taking the time to provide you with constructive feedback at least take the time to listen. Don’t be on the defensive. Listen to them, thank them. You may learn something which will enable to be more successful in the future with other customers, even if you lose their business.

Unhappy customers could provide you with your best source of information in terms of growing a successful business.

 Photo credt: Renjith Krishnan

Ceri Wheeldon

Ceri is Founder and Editor of Fabafterfifty.co.uk She is a frequent speaker at events and in the media on topics related to women over 50 , including style and living agelessly. With 20+ years experience as a headhunter Ceri also now helps support those looking to extend their working lives.

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  1. Chris Wood

    August 7, 2011

    Excellent blog. If all you listen to is good news as a business, you are setting yourself up to fail customers and, ultimately, your business as a whole. We learn most from failures not successes

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