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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