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Richard Holland

Richard Holland Managing Director

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When the Customer Isn’t Right

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 customer 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.

Ben Herring
Richard, This was a great blog. I have been wanting to write something similar to stress this "elephant in the room". We're not openly discussing the employee satisfaction aspect of operating a successful business. It's always the customer's point of view. Well done!
Richard Holland
Thanks for your input, Ben! I'm glad you liked the article!

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