Use data to handle the disgruntled

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After the holiday season, many companies are appeasing those customers unhappy with their purchase experiences. Our experts offer their best customer-soothing strategies

Curtis N. Bingham, President, Predictive Consulting Group

Your first reaction to quickly address a disgruntled customer might be the wrong one. In fact, you might just be better off without some of your customers because they are price buyers and negotiate away all your profits, are massive credit risks, waste call center resources, and abuse your customer service reps. It might simply cost too much to satisfy them.

To protect your best customers and minimize wasted resources, you must prioritize customers according to their value and address disgruntled customers according to their priority and service tier.

Guided by your overall customer strategy, use your CRM system to prioritize your customers according to their value. Metrics might include profitability, share of wallet, lifetime value, cost to serve, strategic impact, or other metrics. Once you do so, it'll be clear at both extremes which customers you need to keep at all costs vs. those that you might be better off if they took their toys and went home.

If the disgruntled customer is a low priority and has paid for a lower-tier service plan (you do tier your service, don't you?), offer to upgrade their service plan and direct them to less expensive self-service or online channels.

The goal is to do just enough to prevent a tarnished reputation. If, however, the customer is high net worth (ie. high-priority and on a high-service plan), you then must do everything you can in a high-touch fashion to resolve the customer's complaint and ensure their perception of and loyalty to you is restored.

Customer feedback (even the negative kind) is a gift — if it comes from valuable customers — and it should be welcomed and addressed immediately to protect your reputation, customer trust, and your revenue. Feedback from the rest of your customers might be interesting, but it is quite possibly irrelevant.

Use your CRM system to prioritize your customers according to their value.

Phyllis Ezop
President, Ezop & Associates

It happens so often when a customer is upset. The customer is told: “We won't charge you for that,” or, “Here are some coupons so you can come back again for free or at a discount.”

Price-sensitive customers might perceive these actions positively, but coupons for freebies and discounts can have the opposite effect with disgruntled consumers who are actually willing to pay a premium. Freebies and discounts may reinforce their experience with the connotation, “you get what you pay for,” creating images of a low-end business unable to meet their discriminating needs.

Good CRM systems help prevent this. Analyzing customer database information for signs of price insensitivity can help determine who might be better served with offers other than freebies and discounts.

Depending upon what is in the database, the information might help identify what these customers do prefer — perhaps more convenient scheduling or service improvements. Consider offering them something that also addresses why they became disgruntled.

The database can reveal enough to suggest what questions to ask the customer before attempting to appease. The questions help to evaluate and validate assumptions, as well as to clarify and verify what the database implies. The customer's answers might suggest ways to amend their dissatisfaction. Of course, some customers may have needs far beyond what your business provides, and you may never be able to appease them. But your database can help assess what to do and how far you should go to please them.

Freebies and discounts can backfire with customers willing to pay a premium.

Mickey Neuberger
Senior director, loyalty strategy, Loyalty Lab

Customomer touch points are becoming few and precious. Direct mail and e-mail response rates of 0.5% to 2.0% illustrate how hard it has become to interact with customers. Therefore, it's imperative that when a customer does reach out with an issue, customer service reps (CSRs) view it not only as a problem requiring resolution but also as an opportunity to build a long-term relationship.

Marketers can leverage their customer databases to turn unhappy customers into evangelists.

Not all customers are created equal. You want to route your best customers to your best CSRs quickly, using an easily calculated valuation metric such as member spend to date or, if you have a loyalty program, member lifetime points. More sophisticated routing metrics could include lifetime value, as long as it's run frequently. Regardless of metric, you want to get your best customers to tier two support immediately, next best to enhanced tier one, and so on. Additionally, you should consider routing new customers to elite support because of the potential for new business.

One of many proven practices is to offer a substantial discount or even free product/service in a product category in which they've shown some interest. More sophisticated businesses employ predictive “next product to buy” models that recommend a few offers for CSRs to present.

By exposing and utilizing some basic customer data, you can arm your CSR departments with the information they need to convert detractors into supporters.

Data can help marketers turn unhappy customers into supporters.

Kate Leggett 
Director e-Service Product Strategy, KANA

Empowered customers want to choose the way that they interact with the companies they do business with. That means the company needs to provide not only the goods and services, but also the tools and culture to make the service experience one of paramount value to that customer — and thus to the company in return.

E-mail has surpassed voice as being the preferred service choice. SSPA reports that customers expect an e-mail response within 20 minutes to 2 hours. To meet these expectations, use auto-acknowledgments to manage the conversation and establish service expectations. Let your customers know that they will receive an answer to their question within 12 hours, or that their answer may be slightly delayed because you are experiencing a higher volume of traffic than anticipated.

All customer questions — direct and implied — should be answered up front to help reduce follow-up questions. A customer asking whether shuttle service is available should receive an answer to this question as well as the cost and schedule of the shuttle service.

Never force your customers to use a particular communication channel, or get stuck with a single communication channel for the duration of the service experience. Allow customers to choose the channel that works for them at that particular time. A customer should be able to follow up an e-mail service request with a phone call if he is away from his desktop, and the agent should have access to the customer's information across all contact channels.

Lastly, allow customers to give you unsolicited feedback — both good and bad. E-mail messages containing feedback can be categorized as such and routed to a queue designated to handle such contacts. As most of this feedback tends to be negative, strong focus should be given to addressing it. Such interactions can be used as triggers to target consumers for proactive outreach.

Empowered customers with communication choices are happy customers.


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