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MARKETING: What happens when customers get angry? Don't find out

November 26, 2007

A recent newspaper article reported on an unhappy customer of a cable company who stormed into its office with a claw hammer and beat on a computer monitor, keyboard and a telephone, expressing her anger at unresponsiveness and lack of service.

How often have you felt the urge to behave in exactly that manner?

That story got me thinking about the anger apparent in our contemporary society: Incidents of road rage. The recent uprising by dissatisfied voters who unseated incumbents. General disgust with the lack of service provided by many organizations.

Who doesn't have a story about the repairman who didn't show up, forcing you to waste your time waiting for him? Then when he does appear, he makes a mess for you to clean up or doesn't do the job correctly, causing more annoying phone calls and service appointments?

My husband and I have had some recent experience with customer service. In the first case, our home phone suddenly was useless because of noises on the line. We called on a cell phone to report the problem and were directed by an automated voice to go to the phone company's Web site or dial a 1-800 number, neither of which offered an option that fit our problem. When we finally reached someone, her answer was, "A serviceman will call in eight business days."

In contrast, we were making arrangements with our travel agent for a trip to Disney World. When a difficulty arose, the travel agent said, "Let's get Disney World involved," and called directly to The Mouse. In no time, we were on a conference call with the travel agent and a Disney representative and were solving the sticky issue.

What a difference in approach. The one organization makes no attempt to "reach out and touch" us to defuse anger. The other two organizations both made the effort and we were delighted with the results.

Remember the old advertising line, "Reach out and touch someone"? Many businesses ought to take that advice to heart. Here's how:

Senior management should walk through the entire process the organization's customers have to go through-walk in the customer's shoes in other words-from the beginning to the end of a transaction.

Wherever the customer makes contact with the organization, the "touch" should be evaluated. "Touches" include contact with the business' employees, but also the organization's signage, its Web site and any other communication vehicles and devices. Positive "touches" defuse potential anger.

Employees who make contact with customers need to be given appropriate training so their service efforts are suitable and their communication with customers is pleasant, courteous, civil and customer-focused. In addition, the employees need to be empowered to make on-the-spot decisions that favor the customer, especially in controversial situations. If they're not empowered to make the decisions, then they should be empowered to give the customer a solution or the expert who can offer a solution.

One of our clients operates under the philosophy that no employee makes a mistake as long as his/her decision solves the problem and benefits the customer. In that organization's eyes, not making a decision for the customer is the mistake.

A good example of employee empowerment is a home-improvement business near us that has changed its policy so that when you ask where something is, the employee escorts you to the item. They no longer just point and say, "Aisle 13."

Such effort defuses potential anger and prolongs customer relationships. The longer the relationship, the greater the loyalty.



Millar is CEO of Millar Communication Strategies Inc., a public relations firm that offers strategic planning, including crisis planning/communication/recovery. She can be reached at 2500 One American Square, Indianapolis, IN 46282, or call 639-0442.
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