A customer’s complaint is a company’s opportunity

published by the Nashville Business Journal

Sometimes just changing your perspective on customer service can change everything. Leaders can turn a perceived negative into an instant opportunity simply by flipping a customer complaint into an occasion for improvement. This shift in mindset is also a great way to kick off universal process improvement at your company. 

When a business regards a customer complaint as an annoyance, it looks something like this: You’re put on perpetual hold while waiting for a “customer service” agent on the phone. Maybe you write a well thought-out letter or email and receive no return communication. Or in a face-to-face interaction about an issue with a product or service you’re belittled or put off with plenty of excuses. 

On the flipside, hotels have become a shining example of how changing your approach to customer service from annoyance to opportunity can directly impact business for the better. Multiple studies have shown that when a hotel responds quickly and professionally to a customer complaint, and then resolves the issue in a way that results in a positive outcome, the customer will actually become more loyal than if the issue had never occurred in the first place. What an opportunity: Do the right thing for a troubled guest and build stronger loyalty in the process. What business could ignore that?  

The key to initiating this new behavior is empowering your customer service people to immediately turn what could be an unwanted distraction into the exact opposite—a second chance to repair a problem that could build business down the line through a lasting bond with the customer. 

Here are some examples of how we have approached this very issue at Tractor Supply, which can be applied to many retail businesses:

  • Whatever it takes: At Tractor Supply, we teach our team members to respond to a customer complaint with, “I will do whatever it takes to make it right for you.” Those words immediately disarm an upset customer, which paves the way for a swift and usually friendly resolution.
  • Happy home visits: Occasionally a Tractor Supply customer has a problem with a piece of equipment on his or her property. It’s not unusual for one of our team members to visit the customer and make the repair during a home visit. This simple but effective step can facilitate a deeper relationship with that customer, and often results in a great PR opportunity when the story is passed around the community.
  • Learn on the return: Any returned product can be an expensive transaction. If the product is truly defective we can turn the matter into a learning opportunity for both the store and the manufacturer. An immediate, proactive resolution can prevent future reoccurrences.
  • It’s always personal: Every customer interaction is an opportunity to learn someone’s name. There is no substitute for addressing a customer by his or her first name. You are automatically building a deeper connection—and possibly a customer for life. 

Any time you can communicate face to face with a person about your product or service, you have a special opportunity to sell future business and develop a line of trust. The ultimate goal? For your customer to say, “I like you, I respect you and I trust your product/service, so I will be back next time.”

So remember, even a largely unhappy customer can be giant opportunity. You just need to look at the situation from a fresh perspective. 

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