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I don't understand people! - sometimes

(My contribution to this month's MZM's group writing project - I think?)

Our - 5 year old - company Wood You Like Ltd prides itself on its high level of customer care. Everyone of our clients knows what they can expect from us from the start, we have webpages filled with (free) information to help them decide and select the best (for their circumstances, interior design wishes and their budget) products and or services we can supply.

And our customer care doesn't stop the moment we've delivered or installed their floor, we don't 'close-the-door' on them (like one 'fellow' installer once told me he did). Our clients appreciate our care, and are happy to tell us so too.

And to be honest, we don't get many complaints or negative remarks from our clients, but we are only human so of course it can happen. We're not afraid of that, of course not! We will always do our utmost best to remedy any issue our clients are not really happy with.

How else can we create word-of-mouth? Because, as Andy Sernovitz so truly states in his book "Word Of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking": Marketing is NOT about what you say, it is about what you DO!

This week we received a (long) letter from one of our clients. We worked on a flooring, part renovation job for them last year. Four months ago!
Quiz1 Their letter starts with a sweet remark on how they appreciate the enjoyable relationship they have (had?) with us, which made it somehow hard for them to put pen to paper to state a list with items/issues they're not happy with. And could we please contact them to remedy the situation? OF COURSE! VERY HAPPY TO DO SO! YESTERDAY IF POSSIBLE!

Why on earth did they wait 4 months? It's not that we tell them they can't contact us after we've closed the door on the job, on the contrary! Every client, no matter if we only delivered the floor or delivered and installed it, receives a letter within 4 weeks of delivery/installation. The very first paragraph in this letter states:

"You recently purchased a natural wooden floor or service from us and we trust everything is to your liking and in good order. Please feel free to call us if you are in any doubt. Remember there is always a 4-seasons guarantee on our labour (if we installed the floor for you)."

We cannot make it any clearer than that! Our clients waited 4 months to inform us of their doubts. And what frustrates me most is the ultimate reason they finally did so: more and more friends, family, neighbours remarked on their floor. 4 months of 'festering' doubt if we are the proper company we make out to be, 4 months of generating 'bad publicity' without us even knowing about it, 4 months without us being able to correct the situation if we've made mistakes - we are only human, we do make mistakes (not many fortunately but still, we do!).

We will remedy this situation, no doubt about it and it doesn't matter if it is just a perception or indeed a case of having made mistakes, we will remedy this. Rather sooner than later!

That leaves me with one big 'festering' question:

How do you stop clients NOT complaining?

(update: see comment box)


Robert Hruzek

Hi Karen! Will it help if I say, "I feel your pain?" :-\

It's always so much easier to voice negative opinions to people who didn't have anything to do with it because there's no danger of "confrontation" (sound of terrified scream)!

I'm afraid we're all subject to that one.

Alas, it's a proven principle that getting to know what your customers REALLY think is extremely difficult at best. All we can do is keep after 'em, keep soliciting their input at every turn and beyond.

At least you actually HEARD from them and have a chance to turn it into a positive experience. Most of the time you'll never know...


Karin H.

Hi Robirt

I really wonder why - specially in this modern era - people still feel it hard to remark upon work done or products delivered not being conform expectations. You pay good money for it and you believe you'll get value for money. If that doesn't happen why not tell the supplier straight away?
Like I said in the title: I don't understand people - human nature - sometimes!

Or could the reason be that here in the UK trades persons are (unfortunately still) known to not follow up on complaints? So clients don't bother?

I don't know, perhaps you're right and should we just be grateful that in the end, even if it took them 4 months, we did hear from them. Now we can take action!

Karin H.

Robert Hruzek

Well, one way to guarantee quick response time on complaints is to become really big! Complainers won't waste any time letting you know how "bad" you've been! :-(

Nevertheless, I pray you guys get huge!!!!

Mother Earth

My mentor in my work - nutritional consulting - taught us that when people are ready they will be interested in what we have to offer them, she also said to love everyone exactly where they are at - meaning to be accepting accordingly. Because what I do is alot about enrolling, her mentoring has often take me off the "why didn't they buy from me" hook or the thoughts I have about knowing how much I could help them...and trusting that if I made a connection with them in a very honest and helpful way they invariably come back. I say this works 110% of the time!

Mother Earth aka Karen Hanrahan

Brad Shorr

Sometimes customers don't complain because they're too nice. They don't want to hurt feelings. They don't want to start an uncomfortable conversation. Your client may be in that category, since they're trying so hard to be polite. If you keep asking for feedback, sooner or later most customers will tell you, if only to get you to stop asking.

Karin H.

Hi Brad

LOL, I like your ultimate outcome of "if only to get you stop asking"!

Mother Earth, wise words from your mentor. Perhaps our unhappy clients were only ready to complain after those 4 months and we should be happy and grateful that they then felt they could approach us with their issues. Because, as Brad mentions they are nice, and - but - so are we ;-)

Thank you both for your input, learned something new today - having a high level of customer service in place doesn't always mean all clients will act the way you think they will because of it.
Keeping the conversation going on all fronts is a must, in all cases but specailly in this one. And those are the wise words of my mentor ;-)

Karin H.

Jen, writer

Well, that's one question I haven't really heard of before. Honestly, unless you tell these people (nicely, of course) to contact you immediately should there be any complaints (although you might be setting yourself up for unwarranted alarm on this one), I don't think there's a way. You guys obviously value customers but if they are too embarrassed or reluctant to complain until after four months, there's nothing you can really do except remedy the situation asap. I'm sure you have a friendly and warm reputation among your clients. That sort of thing is just like a freak accident.

Karin H.

Hi Jenny

LOL, we try to do that with our '4-weeks-after-installation/delivery' letter and it normally works. So yes, indeed a 'freak accident'

We've visited the client last weekend and discovered the real reason: if we had been a large company they wouldn't have thought twice to complain straight away, but because of the very pleasant relationship they had with us, a small company that treats every client as an individual and not a number, they felt reluctant.
My partner kindly explained that in order to solve any mistakes we made we HAVE TO KNOW a.s.a.p, specially as a small company so we can rectify a.s.a.p. and if needed adjust our practice, to keep a pleasant relationship both ways. They now also understand the W-o-M effect of only complaining to friends etc and not to the 'perpetrators'.

Everyone is happy again now, so no harm done and lessons learned - both parties.

Karin H.

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