When the customer is right…

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In my last article I discussed strategies to deal with ‘customers from hell’ in such a way as to create a win win situation for everyone. In this article, let’s take a look at when the customer is right and the vendor is wrong.

I’m sure everyone has plenty of experiences in this area. From a business perspective, how you handle an unhappy customer when you’re in the wrong – or the at least when you can easily be perceived as being in the wrong -  can mean the difference between mediocrity and excellence.

It’s sad that there are times when you have competitors who are able to dominate the market because each one’s strength mirrors the other’s weakness.  Especially when each is intractable when it comes to admitting that they can improve by providing what the customer wants.

When a business becomes so entrenched in a rut that they will not consider adapting their products or services to provide what the customer really wants, they are in great danger of long term failure.

Case example:

Two companies involved in automated marketing campaign services pretty much dominate the market.  One has extremely flexible services but their customer service is really awful.  The other has great customer service but their product has some limitations.  Their pricing is similar.

The client opens an account with the company who has the more flexible services, not initially realizing how awful their service is. After a few months of utter frustration, they move their account to the other major competitor in the market, not realizing the limitation of this company’s services.  They are wowed by the super friendly and helpful customer service when they call to discuss their situation in an attempt to find out whether company two will be more to their liking.

All goes well for the first month or two until the customer wants to perform a basic task that was no problem with company one. Company two suddenly becomes less helpful.  Their stand is that not only does their service not perform this basic task but they have no intention of changing the situation.

This would be fine if they were upfront about these limitations but they choose to cloak them until the client is already involved and then suddenly discovers that services they’d counted on do not perform as anticipated.

So now what? Well, obviously, from the customer’s perspective, the whole situation sucks.  They are stuck between the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea, as there is no company three to go to.

From the business’ perspective, they have a customer who, while completely frustrated, is pretty much forced into loyalty, having run out of options.

So the company scores. Or at least temporarily.  What they fail to understand is that by offering less than the customer really needs in both instances, they have a hostile customer who, at the first opportunity, will have no hesitation in dumping them.  Until such an option presents itself in the form of a savvy upstart competitor, they will freely and gladly badmouth both companies wherever and whenever possible.

What’s the lesson? Business is like a jigsaw puzzle.  A full picture is achieved by using all the pieces in the right places at the right time.  Badly fitting or missing pieces will result in a sub standard picture.  Even if you feel that you’ve cornered the market, beware… this too shall pass.  Sooner or later there WILL be a competitor who will lure away your unhappy customers .  They don’t even have to be much better than you are.  An unhappy customer will move accounts simply to get their message across and to feel that they at least have some control.

So how do you ensure that you don’t put yourself in the position of our case example companies? It’s not that difficult.  Remember that the customer is the reason you’re in business and therefore it makes sense to provide the products, services and options that the customer really needs and wants.  Anything less and you will be a temporary blip on the screen.  Although you do occasionally get the ‘customer from hell’ for the most part, your customers are simply looking for products and services that will help them be successful.

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