Yesterday, a disgruntled customer took hostages at the Discovery Channel creating a crisis that ended in his death and created chaos for a Washington, DC suburb. All the media attention probably didn’t do the station’s marketing strategy much good either. Such an event leads other consumers to wonder what the station did to cause someone to be so passionate about the firm that they were willing to kill and die for their beliefs. This doesn’t make either viewers or advertisers very comfortable and it’s just one way customers can sink your business. Albeit, a pretty extreme way customers can sink your business.
Certainly, not all customers go to such extremes to voice their dissatisfaction, but there are a number of strategies they might employ that cost you time, money, customers, or other valuable components necessary for your business to be successful. And most of the ways customers can sink your business are perfectly legal, so you have little recourse against the customers or their tactics that damage your reputation or gum up the works in your business.
The only way to stop such actions, call them actions of terrorism or simple retaliation, is to ensure customers are satisfied with your products and services, handle customer complaints quickly and effectively, and modify processes to reduce the number of complaints against your business in the future. Very few service failures have a higher “piss off” quotient than when a customer encounters the same problem that caused their initial complaint.
A word about “piss off” quotient
Over my 20+ years as a marketing professor, I’ve developed a term I call “piss off quotient” to highlight the importance I attribute to customer dissatisfaction. Marketing textbooks stress customer satisfaction, and this is an important goal of your marketing strategy. But, satisfied customers don’t necessarily recommend your business to others, nor do they always return to patronize your business again.
Meanwhile, dissatisfied customers are likely to create a series of problems for your business, and pissed off customers may ultimately sink your business. Pissed off customers not only complain, taking valuable time and resources to address their concerns, they tell anyone who will listen about their poor experience. This is why negative word of mouth travels 5 times faster (and farther) than positive word of mouth.
So, let’s take a look at what pissed off customers do to cost you.
How angry customers respond
1. Change vendors
Dissatisfied customers change vendors — they don’t frequent your service or buy your product anymore but support your competitors with their dollars. Obviously, this reduces your profits and, if enough customers decide they don’t like your business, your business fails. While this may sound bad for your business, quietly taking their business elsewhere is probably the LEAST devastating thing disgruntled customers can do.
2. Complain/ receive satisfaction
If you’re lucky, customers complain to you and give you a chance to fix the problem. This gives you a second chance to get it right and may redeem you in the customer’s eyes. Fast recovery from failure and constant communication are the keys to success here, so ignoring complaints just makes things worse.
I often use the case study of Club Med in presenting this concept to students. In the case, Club Med faces a plane full of unhappy customers because the plane was delayed (cutting into vacation time), didn’t load sufficient meals to satisfy demand (leaving lots of hungry passengers, and there were a bunch of lawyers on the plane. Even before the plane landed, Club Med officials were warned that disgruntled passengers were joining a class-action lawsuit. Club Med warded off a lawsuit by meeting the plane and providing extra attention to the passengers, including a banquet, a mariachi band, and limos to the property rather than the bus paid for as part of the package. Club Med did this despite the fact the plane wasn’t there’s but belonged and was operated by a subcontractor. Because of Club Med’s quick action, many of the unhappy passengers left at the end of the week feeling they had the best vacation of their lives.
3. Complain/ no satisfaction
When customers complain and don’t feel they’re getting satisfaction from the company, they become pissed off and their complaints will likely escalate. This has 2 negative effects on your business — on your other customers and employees.
The effect of a complaining customer on other customers can be very serious. First, customers may see the confrontation or overhear strong words between the unhappy customer and your staff. Even second-hand, complaining leads otherwise satisfied customers to be more critical of their own experiences with your firm. This is particularly common in service venues where complaints happen in clear view of others. The second effect is that employees can’t serve new customers because they’re handling complaints from existing customers. This increases the likelihood discontent will spread as new customers are delayed while the employee attempts to diffuse the complaint.
Complaining customers also have a negative effect on employees. NO ONE likes to be yelled at, especially if they didn’t cause your dissatisfaction in the first place. Employees who routinely get yelled at are less productive, unhappy with their jobs, more likely to call in sick, and more likely to quit. So, keeping complaints from happening or handling them quickly also saves the wear and tear on your employees.
4. Negative word of mouth
Unhappy customers tend to tell everyone they are unhappy with a product or service. Dissatisfied customers remember product failures for a long time, so their discontent festers and they share the story of their dissatisfaction for years to come.
While negative word of mouth is bad enough, pissed off customers may actively try to sink your operation. They may host websites or blogs to collect negative word of mouth and fuel discontent with your firm. Pissed off customers might post their discontent to their social networks, which amplifies the message of their experience. Piss off influential customers and, with their extensive social reach, they can easily have a serious effect on your bottom line.
5. Customer retaliation
Customers have LOTS of ways to retaliate against your firm — all perfectly legal.
Do you really think all those burst catsup packets you see on McDonald’s floors were an accident?
They might fail to bus their tables at your fast food restaurant, throw all the toilet paper on the floor of your restrooms and lock stall doors, pay for items in the express lane with pennies, slow loading of your aircraft by standing in the aisles rather than putting carryon luggage quickly into overhead bins … With a little creativity and American ingenuity, I’m sure your customers could think of hundreds of ways to retaliate against your company if you piss them off.
Fixing the problem — generate fewer pissed off customers
- Encourage feedback from customers, listen to it, acknowledge it, and fix the problem
- Train front line employees on how to respond to customers who have complaints
- Empower employees to fix problems
- Most problems are process problems, so when complaints arise, search for causes and change processes
- Don’t ignore drops in revenues. Rather than more advertising, the solution may be creating more satisfaction among existing customers
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