Your company will never be without unhappy customers. It's part of doing business.
I've seen some CEOs with fragile egos tighten up when they run into a customer who is passionately unhappy, but those customers are gold. They're gifts. Pay attention to their passion, even if their passion is anger. Take it as a compliment. It means they care enough about your product that it angers them not to have it.
Customers that complain are showing you something about your business, and the fact they've taken the time to complain, in some way, means they care--otherwise they would just leave. If they're taking the time to care about your company, you too need to take the time to see things from their perspective.
Let me give you an example.
If you have a bad meal at a lousy restaurant, do you tell the owner about it? Probably not. You just go away. Now, let's say you go to your favorite restaurant and have a bad experience. You're shocked, right?
You're hurt. You can't believe it. You're probably going to say something, because you love that restaurant so much. You want them to fix it so you can keep coming back and enjoying the food.
I know this from personal experience. I've invested in seven restaurants throughout my career. My first was in New Jersey. The food was amazing, but it was plagued with bad customer service.
I remember every time a friend would tell me about a bad experience they'd had there, I'd ask my operating partner about it--and boy would I hear the excuses. "Oh, they came late," or "They took too long to order and made so many changes."
It would drive me nuts. I would constantly say, "Stop blaming the customer."
That restaurant went out of business.
The key to turning unhappy customers into active loyalists
It's never their fault.
Repeat after me. "It's never their fault."
When trouble hits, don't be defensive about it. Don't run around trying to assign blame. Just fall on your sword and do whatever it takes to fix it--and fast.
This should be obvious, but in this "politically correct" era when no one wants to call anybody out because they're afraid of hurting someone's feelings, accountability can be passed around like a hot potato until no one remembers who dropped the ball in the first place.
I don't count the screw-ups as much as I keep tabs on how quickly problems are resolved. I always tell my people, "We're all human, and we're going to make mistakes. But the customer is going to remember how fast you fix the problem more than they're going to remember the mistake itself."
So, if you screw up a customer order and they complain--then two hours later, the rest of their order shows up on their doorstep, guess what? Odds are good they will forget they were raving mad in the first place, and go right back to being one of your biggest advocates.
Put yourself in the customer's shoes
This perspective isn't something I made up. I spent years of my life researching how customers think, feel, and act--and is something I talk about at length in my book, All In.
This research project has been a lifelong passion that has been applied to every single one of my businesses--most recently, my company LendingOne, which I started after spending time as a real estate investor. I was looking for financing for these properties I owned, and I noticed how lousy the customer service was by the companies providing the loans to investors like myself. It was so terrible that I thought, "I can do better than this."
That's exactly what I did.
Back when I was running my first company, Wilmar Industries, I wanted to see what the day-to-day was like for our clients--property owners and maintenance managers. For two weeks, I took a night job working in a high-rise apartment building that one of my customers owned. After my day job as CEO was through, I became an "undercover boss," except I wasn't infiltrating my own company. I was inhabiting the world of our customers.
I'd get the work order, go down to the shop and look for the parts. Then I'd knock on a tenant's door and say, "Hi, I'm Bill from maintenance." I was even dressed like a maintenance man.
It was a great experience, because it helped me understand what a maintenance man had to go through. The big lesson here--and this goes for CEOs, all the way down to entry-level employees looking to provide a better experience for their clients--is to put yourself in your customer's shoes. From there, everything looks different, and you almost always can see the issues more clearly, which makes them much easier to solve for.
Remember: The customer is always right. And if you can't see things from the customer's perspective, then I suggest you find creative ways to walk a day in their shoes.