Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Satisfying Customers is Cheap and Easy

If you satisfied your dissatisfied customers when they are “Neutral”, you won’t have to atone for your errors when they are “Annoyed” or feel “Victimized.”


Have you ever received such horrible service you just wanted to scream at the top of your lungs?

Have you ever wished you could tell the whole world how poorly you were treated so no one would ever patronize that business again?

I recently took my relatively new car back to my “friendly Chevrolet dealer” to fix a horrible squeak in my front-end suspension. I was not looking forward to the experience. The last ordeal I had with this dealer was very unpleasant. I tend to become irritable when I sit in the dealer’s “customer courtesy lounge” for several hours on three separate occasions only to be told after the wait that they ordered the wrong part.

After my last blow-up I had with the service rep, service manager, and the general manager of the dealership, you’d think they would have flagged me as a difficult customer. You’d think they would have placed a statement in their computer saying, “Next time this guy comes in, whatever you do, don’t upset him. Fix his car right, and get him out of here.”

Apparently there were no red flags in their computer because they really out-did themselves this time in providing horrible service.

When the service manager asked me what was wrong with my car I pressed down on the hood of the vehicle so he could hear the squeak. His immediate response was, “You need a new fan belt.” That was an amazing diagnosis since the car wasn’t even running.

When I told him that I thought the problem was in the suspension and also mentioned that the car pulled strongly to the right, he told me they would give me an alignment too.

I begged him to please take a look at the suspension. He just shrugged and said, “No problem.”

I was told it would take several hours to fix my car, so I took their “courtesy van” home. At least the bus was there this time. Last time the courtesy van, that “leaves every 30 minutes,” didn’t leave for three hours.

They also told me they would call me to let me know what was wrong with my car prior to doing any work on it. But instead, I had to call them five times to see when my car would be done. Twice I was told it was “being lubed,” even though the car did not require this service. The third time they said, “Our service manager is test driving your car right now to check it out.”

Several hours later, on the fifth call, the service manager told me he had just driven my car and it now was ready. The squeak was fixed. After each of the four previous calls they told me they would call me when my car was ready. I guess my fifth call came just as it was finished.

I bet you can guess what happened when I went to pick up my car! When I opened the door and sat down in the driver’s seat I heard the horrible squeak. It was just as loud as before. They hadn’t fixed it. But they did replace my fan belt and align my car for $153.

This time I complained with gusto! You should have seen them jump. I had six service people around my car in seconds. Unfortunately it was quitting time. They wanted me to bring my car back in the morning. I refused and suggested they give me a loaner car instead. You would think I had just extracted teeth from the service manager’s mouth, but he did give me a car.

The next day they actually delivered my car to my home. They had washed and hand-waxed the exterior, put ArmorAll on the tires, shampooed the carpets and filled my gas tank with gas. I was almost sorry I had caused such a big fuss. That is until I got in the car and heard the squeak!!!


When customers receive poor service they usually react in one of three ways.

The typical response to poor customer service is NEUTRAL the first time it happens. Although the service may not have been as good as the customer expects, the poor service doesn’t really bother a person who responds neutrally. Neutral customers seldom complain. However, when they do complain, they typically follow their complaint by saying something like, “It’s alright. Don’t worry about it.”

Some customers become ANNOYED when they receive shoddy service. This normally occurs when service is particularly bad. Neutral customers can become annoyed when several service errors occur or when a problem is not fixed in a reasonable amount of time.

Finally, customers with severe service problems feel VICTIMIZED. They feel entrapped in a nightmare of poor service. Victimized customers get the impression the service provider is deliberately doing things to irritate them. At this point the service is so bad or flagrant the customer feels personally affronted by it.

Although most neutral customers seldom tell anyone about the poor service they received, people who are annoyed typically tell ten others. Those who are victimized tell everyone they can. They would shout it from the rooftops if they could.

The amazing thing is neutral customers can easily be satisfied just by an expression of surprise that the poor service occurred, the offering of a sincere apology, and a fast resolution of the problem.

With annoyed customers you need to show greater concern for the customer’s problem. You should display a sense of urgency, enlist the customer’s help to find an acceptable solution to the problem, and offer a value-added symbol of your regret.

To satisfy victimized customers you need to pull out all of the stops. The customer will expect to receive an apology from the highest levels of your organization. Get ready to grovel and pay for your transgression.

With victimized customers you need to express your understanding of and empathy for their situation. Allow the customer to vent for as long as it takes. Fully acknowledge their concerns. Listen actively. Address every issue and fix every problem.

Then you must atone for your error with a significant value-added symbol of your regret.

Finally, you must follow-up afterwards with a personal contact to ensure you have resolved the problem completely to the customer’s satisfaction.


My car has now been fixed. But I haven’t been.

The car dealer could have saved a lot of time and money merely by telling the truth, delivering what they promised, keeping me informed, and apologizing for their mistakes. They could have satisfied me with words.

Instead, the dealer has spent thousands of dollars and countless man-hours to finally fix my car. And, even though my car is fixed, I’m still irritated! So irritated in fact that I am writing an article about it, publishing it in my newsletter that goes out to thousands of businesses, and telling my story to everyone I meet.

I really don’t think you want to irritate me if I’m one of your customers! §


Innovative Management Group offers two-, four-, and eight-hour customer service training programs for executives, managers and employees. Please contact us for a list of our customized training programs.

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