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Why a Silent Customer Can Be Deadly

February 7, 2012  
Never assume a customer who doesn't complain is a happy customer. According to a Bain & Company survey, major companies typically lose half of their customers over a five-year period. "Notice, it wasn't 'one year' or 'suddenly,'" writes Sean D'Souza at True You Marketing. "Clients have a tipping point. They get unhappy bit by bit and then it's camel-back-breaking time. So, if you think that all your customers are happy with you—they aren't."

To illustrate how this happens, D'Souza recounts his disappointment with a KFC takeout order of soggy, unappetizing chicken and fries. He called the restaurant chain's toll-free number to complain, but was told that complaints should be directed to the specific location's manager. D'Souza couldn't be bothered—understandably—and simply chose to stop patronizing the restaurant.

KFC lost a customer without even knowing it had happened. You can bet your customers make "silent" decisions like this on a regular basis—so make it easy for them to complain. Don't rely on feedback forms. Ask customers for direct, face-to-face opinions. "Do it regularly and have them know whom they can complain to, if anything goes wrong," says D'Souza.

It's never fun to hear what you're doing wrong, but here's the upshot:

  • By asking specific follow-up questions, you can create specific solutions that improve your business and satisfy a customer's concerns.
  • A complaint is free intel—much cheaper than the research you pay outside vendors to conduct.
  • Finding a new customer will cost you eight times as much as keeping an existing customer.

The Po!nt: Don't mistake silence for satisfaction. Ask hard questions, get hard answers, and make your customers happy.

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  • by Jennifer Kelly Tue Feb 7, 2012 via web

    Great article. I can see it working well for products. What are some tips for consultants to solicit feedback from clients?

  • by Chimae Cupschalk Tue Feb 7, 2012 via web

    When it comes to how well you’re providing service ‘silence definitely isn’t golden’. In fact, more often than not “passive” customers as described by Fred Reichheld in The Ultimate Question, are those who can have considerable impact on your organization especially when customers migrate to your competition.

    Particularly interesting are comments, both verbal and audio, shared by customers reflecting on recent service transactions. Paying attention to how something is said, what is shared and reading between the lines can often times uncover what needs more attention before your customer(s) says good-bye.

  • by Lisbeth Calandrino Tue Feb 7, 2012 via web

    This is a great article. Most businesses don't realize that 96% of unhappy customers never bother to complain they just go away. And a recent study indicated that 90% if businesses that went out of business boasted an above average rating from their customers on customer service. The best way to know what your customer thinks is have an outside company contact them and find out what you could do better.
    Thanks for reminding us of the "power of the customer."

  • by Arthur Catalanello Wed Feb 8, 2012 via web

    Great article! I've found that most businesses don't really know who their customers are, let alone how their customers feel about their business. Solid marketing research can help shed some much needed light on their relationship.

    I recently wrote a blog post about this very subject:

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