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I write a lot about customer experience, service and retention. With our hyper-competitive industry demanding greater transparency, it will continue to become more important. In a recent article, “Why Differentiation Should Be Your Only Goal,” I discussed why differentiating yourself from your competitors, and providing a unique experience is essential to future business success. Sometimes, however, customers can be unhappy no matter how hard you try to make them happy.

 

In the retail automotive industry, CSI scores reign supreme and OEMs hold dealerships to a standard by which anything below an excellent grade by a customer is failing. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the customer will never be satisfied. While the future of revenue and growth may be tied to customer experience, your business success is also very much tied to employee satisfaction. For any leadership team, the ability to balance customer service and employee satisfaction is just as important.

 

However, there are times when you just have to draw a line in the sand. Earlier this month, the COO of a company that makes custom containers, did just that.

 

An unhappy customer took to Facebook and publicly complained about them with this comment:

 

“Don’t do business with this company if you want it handled right. They wait over a week to let you know – they lost your payment – they provide a phone number that no one ever answers. If you have a deadline – like Christmas – Forget about it. Product is great – Company is not”

 

Typically, the best advice for a business in this situation is to publicly respond to the customer (since it was posted in a public forum) asking them to contact the business directly so that they can try and fix this issue. This shows potential and existing customers that the business is listening and cares about providing a great customer experience. This, COO, however, took a different route as you can see by his response:

 

 

This type of comment, which has since been deleted, goes against what most experts would advise in every way. The traditional thinking of “the customer is always right” flew right out the window. It was quickly noticed by other consumers and went viral on the Internet. Arguing with a customer in such a public way would normally generate sympathy from the public for the consumer, as happened earlier this year thanks to Amy’s Baking Company. In this case, however, the effect was quite the opposite.

 

Consumers rallied around the company congratulating them on standing up for their employees and their emphasis on family. They shared their support within that comment, on the company’s Facebook page, tweeted about it and the company’s phones began ringing off the hook with new business.

 

In no way am I advising any business to run out and start arguing with customers online. Nor am I suggesting that anything less than providing an exceptional customer experience is imperative to business growth. What I am saying is that consumers appreciate strong branding and messages and a company’s willingness to defend it. This specific example illustrated this company’s resolve to not compromise its beliefs and values over revenue. Customer retention is absolutely important. But so is your company and its culture. While you probably shouldn’t duplicate the actions of this COO in public, there are times when it’s ok to make the decision that your employees and values are more important than a single customer’s demands.

Views: 421

Tags: Facebook, company, culture, customer, experience, interaction, media, social, values

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Comment by Joshua Pullan on January 13, 2014 at 2:06am

Interesting article and interesting approach, it reminded me a lot of a similar story about a Pizza Hut manager refusing to make his branch work on thanksgiving.(http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/28/us/pizza-store-thanksgiving-firing/

I fully agree with Brian's point. It would definitely help to hear the customer's perspective.

Since holiday hours have been making quite a stir recently, I think there is a general support for Mr Clark's approach and defending of his business practice. That said this seems to be a communication issue above everything else. The customer expected a certain standard of service which the company couldn't provide over the Christmas period. It should have been made abundantly clear to the customer, before they ordered, that those were the company's values and that they should expect a slower service/disruption to the normal standard. If this wasn't made clear, I can certainly understand the complaint.

It also does come across that Mr Clark is giving the plaintiff a dressing down, definitely something to be avoided, and refuses to service the order. Another massive mistake. It makes his response long and burns bridges unnecessarily. Isn't the point of responding to customer complaints to reconcile the problem? He's just fuelling the fire of the customer's discontent. You can bet that they'll be even more vocal about their dissatisfaction, and cost the business even more.

He should have stopped after addressing the complaint, stating his family-centric policy and left it there.

Comment by Brian Bennington on January 12, 2014 at 6:11pm

Well Richard, I'm going to add a little controversy to your post by taking the customer's side, or should I say, the business side.  First and most important, the sale wasn't made and no one was satisfied, so it was a "loser" all around.  While the complaint was concise, Mr. Clark's response was anything but.  Reading it, his "flag waving" might have been more effective if it didn't ramble on so much and if it was proofed enough to at least eliminate the typos.

Nothing illustrates unconcern, a superior attitude, and a general disregard for the message recipient more than a poorly written communication.  And, there's nothing quite as negative as telling the customer upfront that your response will upset them.  While Tim Martell didn't refer to Mr. Clark's comments in particular, he nailed it when he said "...most posts that attempt to defend fail because they are poorly thought out...."  But, I disagree with him that anything about this was "Well done".

There are a lot of business owners and management that, when they're in the spotlight, proclaim "Their people are their most important resource," but in their day-to-day conduct, treat these same people with distain and disregard.  They'll give massive amounts to charity but have trouble giving their people the time of day.  Their "charitable giving" could very likely be a "salve for their conscience."  Who knows?  But, before I'd believe in Mr. Clark's altruism, I'd take my lead from Joe Webb's comment that "there must be times where telling (or hearing) both sides of the story is beneficial."

So, contrary to my friend Tom LaPointe, I'm far from calling Ryan Clark a "freakin' hero," nor am I sure that, as our leader Ralph said, this was "driven by a leader standing up for his company's core principles."  It could just be a case of "ego defense."  Please don''t misunderstand my take on this.  I love the car business and the owners, managers and reps who make it possible.  I have the privilege of working for some of the best of them.  But, my first love and loyalty is with the customers, and until proven wrong, will always give them the benefit of the doubt.  They've earned my loyalty because of the countless meals they've put on my table.  And, unless I'm mistaken, that situation is the same for everyone reading this.  After all, if you love your customers and they know it, they'll help you succeed in ways you can't imagine....   

Comment by Timothy Martell on January 11, 2014 at 8:47am

After reading the post, I am not as surprised as others that this was embraced by the public. The reason most posts that attempt to defend fail is because they are poorly thought out and typically consist of he said/she said content. This never works because the pubic always assumes the big bad business is lying. In this case the messaging was very carefully constructed and the message was about company culture not about "you did this wrong which is why we reacted this way."

Of particular importance was the emphasis of traditional family values which resonates very strongly with the public at large. Well done, Mr. Clark.

Comment by Richard Holland on January 11, 2014 at 6:11am

I was also surprised as this would backfire more often than not. However, it didn't and I would guess that not only did his employees appreciate it but became more loyal to the company because of it.

Comment by Joe Webb on January 11, 2014 at 4:56am

Great article, Richard. Like Ralph, I'm surprised the American public embraced the company's position and post, but I'm also alleviated that they did.  (I''m halfway through a blog of my own where this very same instance occurred and a company vehemently defended a negative review based on how the customer was REALLY acting). I have to believe in my heart that, while not often, there must be times where telling both sides of the story is beneficial.

Comment by Ralph Paglia on January 11, 2014 at 12:37am

Wow... I am surprised by the public's response, but in a pleasant way. As risky as the response seemed to be, it was driven by a leader standing up for his company's core principles.

Comment by Big Tom LaPointe on January 9, 2014 at 8:52pm

Great piece. Ryan Clark is my freakin' hero!

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