Help Me, Help You. Sincerely, Your Customer.

Published: Mar 01, 2017
Author: Erin Van Remortel 

“I'm writing you in what is essentially a last ditch effort to remain a customer”, is how the letter began. It was written to a senior executive back in 2014 and remains one of my all-time favorites. I read customer complaints all day, every day. And it is not a dull job.

This customer went on to explain that his firm had been doing business with us for 15 years and over time, as the company grew, so did its reliance on us. It had bought more services to support the growing business, and in that process, had planted additional roots in our “pot”—deep and tangled roots which aren’t easy to pull up.

This customer—like many large enterprise customers that buy complex services, sign multi-year contracts and build long standing relationships with their service providers—didn’t want to leave. He wanted to stay.

See complaints as opportunities

He proceeded to tell us what we needed to do in order to keep his business. It was pretty simple:

“I could go on extensively with detailed examples of the myriad problems we are experiencing but it can generally be summed up simply by telling you that (your) failure to provide a functioning Service Manager who can effectively address chronic issues and unusual situations has left more than one of our business units at serious risk in an entirely unacceptable and unnecessary fashion.”

And there it was, staring us right in the face—a golden opportunity to take action and save a valuable customer. We didn’t have to hunt for this intelligence, there was no survey, market research or promotional advertising cost required. In this one letter, our customer of 15 years told us exactly how we could keep his loyalty for another three.

The good news is we listened to the customer and we acted on it. We saved this one. What we didn’t do well enough, or quickly enough, is understand that we had many more less vocal customers who were experiencing the same pain—and act on that knowledge. We lost some of these customers, but we also heard from many of them, and over the past few years we have taken action to provide them with the support they need to be successful.

Complaints are gifts from your customers. Listen to them. Then act on the things they tell you matter the most.

Four quick tips for getting better customer insight:

  • Make it easy. Don’t give your customers a 20-question survey that requires a lot of their time. Begin with quick and easy questions focused on the areas you really need feedback on. You’re more likely to get a meaningful response and relevant data you can act on.
  • Meet your customers where they are. Enable them to provide feedback via multiple channels. Not all customers will complete email surveys but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t provide valuable feedback—give them options such as an online customer community or a feedback link on your website.
  • Thank them. Customers who know you listened and are doing something about it are more likely to give you more. 
  • Don’t miss that golden opportunity. At Verizon, we’re mapping customer journeys to identify all touchpoints and gain insight into each. We’ve even analyzed anonymous customer calls that provide uncensored feedback for us to learn from. Your customers’ journeys should be visible from start to finish so you never miss the chance to hear what they have to say.

Erin Van Remortel is a champion for the customer, CX thought leader and practitioner at Verizon.  Erin is a certified Customer Experience Professional (CXPA) and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.

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