“Here you go.”
That’s what the shoe salesman said, thrusting two boxes in my direction as he simultaneously began to walk away.
I was pretty stunned and started doing a mental checklist:
- Had I smiled at the guy? Yes.
- Had I asked politely to see the selected shoes? Yes.
- Was I seriously considering purchasing? Yes.
Rewind the last bullet. I had been seriously considering a purchase – until that moment.
Now…you might think I was at some low-rent shoe store, where lackluster service is the norm. You’d be wrong. I was shopping in the heart of high-end, the lap of luxury.
In other words, I was shopping at Neiman Marcus.
Perhaps the fact that I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt put the gentleman off his A-game? I shouldn’t have to prove my worth as a customer by wearing labels, yet ironically I had purchased both my shirt and pants in that very store.
Sometimes having a customer loyalty-based business is a burden as a consumer, because I see missed opportunities virtually every time I shop. In this case, my experience wasn’t a near-miss. Nope, the attention I received was a flagrant fail in Customer Service 101.
If you are selling high-end, high-touch goods and services – or own a business that does – a single client interaction can have massive ripple effects for your bottom line. Unhappy customers tell an average of 16 people about their bad experiences, while happy customers tell only 9 people about good ones, according to an American Express survey.
Worse, once you provide a negative experience to a customer, you need a whopping twelve positive experiences to win them back.
Now ask yourself – if you’ve had a negative experience in a shopping environment, how easy is it to get those twelve positive experiences to have even a chance to win them back? There are too many other shopping options – at every price range. The days when consumers were limited to their Main Street offerings are long gone.
As a business owner or manager, do you know when customers are unhappy? Most of the time you don’t because they won’t tell you. But they will tell their friends.
Fortunately, there are ways to stop the tide of negative commentary, when you have the right customer outreach plan in place. If you are able to connect with that customer and resolve their complaint there’s a 70% chance you can retain them. In fact, sometimes customers who have had their complaints resolved well can become your most loyal allies. Mistakes will happen in your business – the steps you take after there’s an issue is what separates the winners from the businesses whose customers tweet and write posts about their negative experiences.
Here are the three keys to saving unhappy customers:
1) Make customer retention a priority.
It may seem obvious, but unless you address the issue specifically with your team, they will focus on the outcomes that are best for them, personally. Employees often go for the short-term win instead of the long-term value of a customer. Until you specify your objectives, you let employees decide what is most important for your customers’ experience.
2) Have a plan.
Once your objectives are clear, how are you going to manage to them? Both you and your employees own pieces of the execution phase. You must have a plan with back-end systems to reward the behaviors you want. The responsibility to enforce the plan to show you mean business resides with you as a manager, but having objective and specific outcomes will make it easier for everyone to follow your lead.
3) Monitor customer engagement.
You may not know if every customer is unhappy, but even small businesses can put systems in place to catch issues before they become problems. When you consider the value of a long-term customer and the negative impact an unhappy customer can have on the rest of your customer pool, it’s worth time and effort to monitor how folks feel about your business.
And then what? If someone from Neiman Marcus reads this post, what will they do? What would you do if you found out about a customer who had a negative experience in your business?
Knowing the exact answer to those questions can be the difference between saving a customer and losing them for life.