“Waiter! There’s a fly in my soup.” Customer complaints justified or otherwise, can be as unwelcome as a bluebottle doing the backstroke in your broth. Sure, we all claim customers are important to our business, but how we handle customer complaints, especially those we deem unfounded, is our litmus test. Most of us are big enough to hold up our hand and admit when we’ve messed up. Whether we’ve innocently mismanaged customers’ expectations or let them down catastrophically, lessons can be learned.
For me, the going gets toughest when I judge a customer’s gripe to be ill-founded or unreasonable. Recently, we produced a job I was particularly pleased with. My heart sank when the customer called to say “I’m not happy”. I admit to responding defensively at his pernickety stance, but I knew deep down that if I wanted to rescue the situation and ensure we were paid in full, I had to win him over and that meant unavoidable rework. “The customer is always right, the customer is king”; he knew it and I knew it. As ever, everything comes down to risk management.
I was as wrong as the customer was right. Justified or not, his complaint could have been foreseen and defused further upstream. I could have better managed and understood his expectation before spending his money. That lesson was learned - again! The thought of unsuccessful resolution, customer attrition, reputational risk or costly litigation is enough to send shivers down my spine and sharpen my focus on getting things right first time.
Together, contract review, order acknowledgement, proofing, prototyping, and client approval minimise risk and maximise customer satisfaction levels by focussing on the customer every step of the way. How else can I grow the business if not through competitive advantage through meaningful customer relationships built on satisfaction, trust and loyalty? As for our soup waiter - please, someone bring him a cloche.