For decades, we’ve heard “The customer is always right,” especially in industries like restaurant and hospitality. But in today’s age of social media, when every brand is more connected with its customers than ever before, this has somehow gotten lost.
Guess what? It still applies. And if your brand is going to be competitive in its space, you’d better be intent on listening. The average consumer nowadays is smarter, more selective, and more well-informed than ever before and your brand’s success depends on its ability to meet the needs and expectations of these consumers. So what’s the best way to position yourself to accept and react to this criticism?
Always be listening. Keep in mind that some of this negativity might not be on your own channels. In fact, consider it a blessing if it is because it means your customer enjoys your brand enough to voice their discontent directly to you. A lot of the criticism may not be directed to anyone in particular in the form of tweets, blog posts, or reviews on websites. There are a lot of great free and paid tools out there (Google Alerts, Hootsuite, Radian 6, Meltwater Buzz) to help you improve your listening across the entire internet.
Respond. A lof of experts will say “Listen first for a while, see what people are saying and then begin to respond.” In my mind, listening is a waste unless you respond proactively. Now, your response doesn’t always have to say “We’ll refund the cost of your ticket”, or “We promise your package will never arrive late again”. If you can offer an unhappy customer some compensation then that’s great, but if not at least let them know you’re listening. Something as simple as “We’re sorry you had a bad experience and we are going to look into solutions for the future,” or “Thanks for your feedback, please let us know if there’s anything else that we can do to make your experience more enjoyable.” A lot of times, the customer doesn’t want your compensation; they just want to know that you are listening and care about them.
Be committed to improving. Saying you’ll improve is one thing, doing it is another. This isn’t to say that every negative comment that someone tweets at you or writes in a review will spur a major change in the way your organization does business. But it should mean that each of these comments will at least spur a question. Why are people from this location unhappier than our other locations? Is there a way to streamline this process so wait times are shorter? Can we reduce cost of this item by doing B instead of A? Sometimes there won’t be a solution, but it is always worth looking into if you can improve your business and give your customers a better experience.
Be open to advice/suggestions. There is never any harm in asking a customer for help. The Nike swoosh, one of the most internationally recognizable emblems, was designed by the winner of a contest who was a graphic design student at Portland State University. If a consumer complains about a particular item or experience they had, ask them “What would you do to improve this product?” or “How can we make this process easier for you next time?” I would even do it publicly, let your other consumers see that you are open to change and are looking for advice; I bet a lot of them will be happy to offer it to you. In addition to making your brand seem personable and flexible, I’d bet that your angry customer will give your brand another try to see if it has improve or taken any advice. The best thing you can ask for after a bad user experience is a second chance.
We’re all very proud of our brand, we have the utmost faith in our product, and it’s easy to say that every unhappy customer is myopic and lacks an understanding of the intricacies of your industry and your business model. But it’s a consumer-driven economy and no matter how you may try to rationalize or justify it, the customer is STILL always right.