Nobody likes complainers, right? They can’t be satisfied. They want something for nothing. They called just to annoy someone, and that was you. But many who call are sincere and should be treated like gold because this is a golden opportunity!
Most unhappy customers just vote with their feet. They take their business elsewhere – bad mouthing your brand on the way. “That used to be my brand,” they tell their friends, “but they’ve really gone downhill lately!”
For every unhappy customer who takes the time to complain, 100 more walk and talk. This has gotta hurt! It not only hurts your reputation and chases away new customers, but you lose this customer’s business permanently.
This silent but deadly protest is the bane of the brand builder!
But, there is a way to stem the tide and mitigate this unseen disaster. First you, as a brand builder, acknowledge that for every 100 unhappy customers, only 1 will take the time to actually call and complain. But once you become aware of their concern, you have an opportunity to fix it fast before more customers silently walk and talk.
The key is to take every complaint very seriously. It is the tip of the iceberg that can sink your brand if you don’t change course fast!
First consider why they are calling:
- They want the problem fixed.
- They want their money’s worth.
- They have made a commitment to your brand and want to be validated.
- They have put their reputation on the line by recommending your brand to others and want to save face. If they can’t, they will feel obligated to recant their endorsements.
- They are expressive and action-oriented people. Whatever they have to say about your brand, it will be loud! And repeated many times…
- They believe you can fix the problem (so they don’t have to walk and talk).
Once you look at their “why,” you will see their “complaint” as a golden opportunity to build a strong, brand-loyal advocate! Basically, complainers already have used your brand and may even love your brand. That’s why they’re complaining!
Here’s our short list of how to love them back:
- Apologize for the situation, even if it’s not your fault. If they are complaining about your CPG brand, this is especially true. The problem could be with the retailer, your broker, the trucker, or your distributer. Just take the blame! Accept responsibility for trying to resolve their concerns. Most folks automatically blame the brand first. They don’t know how tough it is to get to brands out there in the first place. By accepting responsibility, you’re saying, “We can fix this!” That gives them a great first impression.
- Compensate them with products or services. When you refund their money, they’ll still bad mouth you because their last experience with your brand was unsatisfactory. Instead, ask them to allow you to show them that you can live up to, or exceed, their expectations for your brand. Overkill with additional product and extras to show you mean business and that their loyalty is valuable to you.
- Ask a lot of questions and listen closely. Where did they buy it? Was it in stock? How was it priced? Have they ever had a bad experience with your brand before? How long have they been buying your brand? And many more telling queries. They will be flattered you care about their experience, and proud to know they are helping to improve your service.
- Thank them for calling. Tell them how much you appreciate them taking their time to bring the matter to your attention. Assure them that you will do whatever you can to fix the problem so there is no reoccurrence. Then brainstorm with your people on how to prevent it from happening again. Make sure your company has a hardwired connection between customer service and production, marketing, and R&D.
- Call back in a few weeks to ask them if their concern has been satisfied. Tell them again how important their comments are. Share with them what you are doing as a company to prevent a repeat. And ask them if they will continue to purchase and recommend your brand.
Remember, your customers will judge you more by how you handle a tough situation than how you glide through the smooth ones. Build advocates out of complainers. They’ll talk about you either way! Hear them say, “They treated me right!”
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders