Years ago, there was a joke that in the UK, people call 112/999 when electricity goes off, in the US they call 911, but in India, people check the neighbour's house. If their lights are off, they are relieved. I was overwhelmed by the response to my previous piece about unsolicited calling. Most people responded by saying they related to it. Thanking them, I asked a follow-up question – did you do something about it? With a few exceptions, the response was negative.
This trait of not complaining about sub-optimal service is not limited to pesky calling; the behaviour transcends categories. We whine, stop buying, run down the product on social media, dissuade others, but never voice our complaints, the common reasons being 'It's not worth the effort', 'Maybe it was a bad decision', 'I will look like a fool complaining,' etc. People also hope that someone else will take up the cudgels. We have been taught to accept and tolerate deficiencies. That's an impediment to the cause of zero tolerance in consumer matters.
Right thinking marketers often make it easy for customers to complain. As marketers, it's a responsibility to our customers. We ought to encourage customers to communicate with us. If they don't, customers find other avenues like social media to vent, or worse, find an alternative brand to patronise. Complaining customers often become raving fans of your brand once the complaint is resolved satisfactorily. So, addressing a complaint is but an opportunity to engage, show your prowess and win customers for life.
The concept of PEACE
My experience is that most organisations are serious about customer issues and are eager to resolve them. But customer management in this VUCA world is like balancing a tight rope. And here's how marketers can meet complaints with 'PEACE':
• Prepare for anywhere, anytime complaints: Keep your eyes and ears open and listen to social media chatter. Pro-actively intervene and engage, even if the customer is not talking to you but just being querulous about her experience with your brand.
• Engage with the customer: A wealth of knowledge during my time with a telecom company came from listening to customer calls, interactions at retail counters and reading e-mails which would normally go to customer care. Lots of new product ideas or process improvement opportunities came from such interactions, apart from a wealth of honest feedback. Every marketer should block time on his calendar to engage with customers in familiar settings - when her guards are down.
• Acknowledge the issue: Even if the customer is seemingly unreasonable, acknowledge that there is an incongruity in the expectation vs delivery and something needs to be done. If it means your communication is over-promising, it needs correction. As a marketer, take it upon yourself to do something. That's all people want: the reassurance that something will be done, that you care.
• Calibrate your response: Customer-centric organisations would already have an SOP-driven response to complaints. But there could be unanticipated complaints or an overtly loud and irate customer seeking an unreasonable replacement or waiver. These instances can set you off-balance. In such situations, as a brand custodian, you must cogently calibrate your response. Go overboard and there are cost implications, stay conservative and you risk customer dissonance. Important criteria to consider while offering a solution are the customer's expectations, the cost versus benefit of alternative solutions, the probability of the customer seeking reparations and the righteousness of your decision.
• Empower all touch-points: If a customer at your brand showroom had to complain on the website or to the online retailer she purchased it from, she would be furious. Organisations must have a process to accept feedback/complaint at all touch-points, be it brand stores, multi-brand outlets, website, social media or e-mail. Wherever possible, empower those touch-points to offer a spot resolution. You deal with the back-end… it's your product which is deficient. The last thing a peeved customer wants to be told is to complain 'elsewhere'.
As customers, I recommend that we complain about poor products, slapdash service and delayed deliveries. Don't let yourself feel cheated. Complain if you are bothered. Complain if you haven't got your money's worth. If nobody complains, mediocrity is bolstered. You owe it to others… they shouldn't go through what you have had to. So, go the distance and complain – someone out there will thank you for it.
The author is a senior professional in the corporate sector and writes on varied topics that catch his fancy. The views expressed here are his own.