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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How To Build WOM From Complaining Customers - MarketingProfs B2B Forum 2011

How To Build WOM From Complaining Customers - MarketingProfs B2B Forum 2011
MarketingProfs B2B Forum 2011 featured as keynote speaker Guy Winch, author of The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, and Enhance Self-Esteem.

[See my interview with Guy, titled Guy Winch: How To Complain & Get Results - The Squeaky Wheel.]

Guy had us mesmerized as he explained How Your Unhappiest Customers Can (Paradoxically!) Help You Foster Fans... if you truly focus on handling their complaints, resolve their problems AND repair the relationship with them.

The implications of his advice are far reaching. Think of all of the situations during which complaints arise: family interactions, with friends, as customers and business professionals. And, yet, when is the last time we've received professional advice or training on how to 'foster fans' and address complaints?

The Complaining Psychology
95% will not complain to a company. They prefer to relay to others excluding those who can fix the problem and will tell an average of 16 friends or acquaintances. Complaints create negative feelings which lead to apprehension, defeatist thinking, feeling helpless and powerless. Better to avoid the source of the complaint and funnel the energy into commiserating with others.

Did you realize that this is a global phenomenon? In fact, I discovered Complaints Choir Worldwide [thanks to Dr. Winch mentioning the Helsinki Complaint Choir].

Unattended Complaints Do Damage To Relationships.
They create a rupture in the "fabric of relationships" affecting trust - which in my mind is the holy grail! If you both handle the complaint and repair the relationship, you build loyalty and greater confidence that you'll listen, and resolve problems in the future.

For all that we dislike complaints, they yield tremendous benefits. The more likely customers are to voice complaints, the lower the risk of attrition and the more likely customers are to share positive word-of-mouth endorsements. Think of them as a free focus group providing early warning of issues and problems. If we know about them, we can fix them, tailor our communications and discover unknown and unmet needs!

How to elicit compaints?
Despite psychological barriers, it's important to look for signs of disengagement. More specifically, changes in business transactions or habits, in voice/tone, in communication style, in social media engagement. The signs are usually in plain site, but you need to have systems in place to alert you. [Interesting detail: bilingual people have both a hot and cold language channel. When I lived in French speaking Africa, my 'hot' language was French. It is now English. The question to ask is which language is more personal?]

Guy Winch, MarketingProfs B2B Forum 2011
How To Handle Complaints
It helps to give permission to voice complaints. Ask customers for feedback, using "I" statements in open ended initial questions. For example, "is there anything I could do better?"

How To Repair the Relationship Wound?
You need to handle the customer while fixing the problem. Three elements come into play: an effective apology, open communications about the process and great followup.

An apology is critical and saying sorry convincingly is the hardest part of the work. [Advice: don't interrupt and offer a solution until after the person explains what went wrong. You need to hear it all so you can be authentic.]

To be effective, an apology must include regret and the person's specific feelings. It must also provide emotional validation to match the customer's emotional concern.

Only then can you and should you give your side.

To rebuild trust: 1st promise, then deliver repeatedly. More specifically,
  • Breakdown the process transparently so there are no surprises in what to expect
  • Set time frame for each step and notify each time you deliver
  • Go the extra mile and exceed expectations
  • Promise only what you can deliver [be cautious]
  • Explain and apologize for limitations
  • Get feedback about proposed solution
  • End with apology recap
  • Then, deliver on promises! [cash in on trust]
It's critical to manage your feelings!
Manage your feelings then manage theirs. Realize that the visceral reflexive response is an auto response and manage it. A valuable technique to use is reappraisal or reframing. In so doing, you change the underlying feeling about the situation and reframe it in a more positive light for your customer.

In closing, Guy Winch reminded us how valuable it is to take care of complaining customers. They can become your most loyal word-of-mouth endorsers. Definitely, treasure them since they offer an opportunity to:

1. Repair a relationship.
2. Discover systemic problems
3. Gather information about customers.
4. Increase positive word of mouth/mouse
5. And practice complaint handling skills.

Thanks, Guy. What valuable advice! [And, I really enjoyed meeting you in person.] Be sure, too, to read Veronica Jarski's post on #mpb2b Forum: How to Repair Customer Relationships While Fixing Problems in 3 Basic Steps.]

What is the worst customer complaint situation you've encountered? And what happened as a result? Which of Guy's best practices did you find most helpful?


  1. Dear CB - great information, thanks. Trying to turn around an unhappy customer is one of the hardest parts of our job as floor covering retailers. Great tips.

  2. Judith,

    You are very welcome! I can only imagine some of the situations you have had to work through.

    Thanks for commenting. I hope you're well.



Reminder: Please, no self-promotional or SPAM comments. Don't bother if you're simply trying to build inauthentic link juice. Finally, don't be anonymous: it's too hard to have a conversation. Thanks, CB

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