I’m outspoken, and I have a platform. This makes me a difficult customer for some and a dream for others. When I have issues with a company or product, I let them know. I detail the problem. I expect a resolution, and I usually get one.
As the old saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” But why should only squeaky wheels get greased? Why should secret warranties and customer satisfaction squads cater to our complaints? Shouldn’t all consumers be taken care of?
Of course not! Economically-speaking, businesses should cut corners and maximize profit. An MBA might point out that minimizing service and only resolving issues for those who cause trouble is the right decision. If people will accept an inferior product or service, why not sell it to them?
But there are consequences to this path. If only squeaky wheels like me get their issues resolved, won’t consumers learn to complain louder? And there are opportunity costs when even the shyest customers are abused – they won’t come back in the future. Then there’s the overall risk that a company’s reputation will be harmed by all those complainers, many of whom might not go back and amend their loud public criticism once they’re made whole.
Let’s consider the training aspect. The advent of social media means that consumers have a louder voice then ever. Venting once took place in person, an ineffective venue because it is almost entirely inaudible. “I saw a roach at that restaurant,” a man says to another on the street. Two customers are lost, and no one is wiser. Today, those discussions happen on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and 100 other places. And they stick. A roach report can harm a business far and wide, affecting customers who never met.
Businesses responded by adding social media support mechanisms. American Express patrols Twitter with @AskAmex, and my experience is that they resolve problems where regular phone support cannot. When I complained about the hassle of buying a Dell laptop, @DellCares was there to investigate the problem (they did) and resolve it (with a $50 credit). You bet that next time I have an issue like this I’ll blog and tweet and get results. But should I really have to resort to this? Shouldn’t Dell just take care of their customers, keep pricing consistent, and send the machine when it’s ordered?
If a business doesn’t take care of its customers, they may not talk but they will assuredly walk. All things considered, I would definitely be shy about ordering another Dell. I stopped using my American Express card for a while after their security folks freaked out in the middle of my first Tech Field Day and wouldn’t approve my charges. I avoid setting foot in Wal Mart stores. This is a natural reaction to poor service and customer experiences. It’s silent and can prove deadly to a business, and should be included in the cold customer service calculation.
All of this tends to linger as well. I try to set the record straight after the fact, but took a while to get around to amending my post about Dell. But you can’t edit a Tweet, and most customers wouldn’t bother adjusting a negative review. If the experience was bad enough to cue a flame, why expend the effort even if they made the issue right? I wonder if businesses are considering these long-term impacts when making support decisions.
It just isn’t right. I shouldn’t have to complain to get decent customer service, to keep listed prices from changing at checkout, or to get defective products replaced. Every customer deserves the same positive experience: A smooth purchase, easy delivery, as-advertised functionality, and lifetime quality. The squeaky wheel shouldn’t be the only one to get the grease. Until then, however, I have one word of advice: Squeak!
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