You’re a big company, I’m your customer, and you have a choice: You can either keep me as a loyal customer singing your praises to anyone who will listen or read, or you can make me hate you.
It seems easy, but there’s a trick – it’ll cost you $600 to win me over. Yes, that’s it. $600 buys my love, my brand loyalty, and possibly a hefty percentage of my friends and network. But, it is $600 after all.
What do you choose?
To people in sales or marketing, this should seem like a no-brainer. But, somehow it trips up big companies all over the world time and time again. Is the customer always right? Or, is your market share big enough to steamroll a single dissatisfied voice?
Seth Godin recently wrote that simple acknowledgement is the first step to customer satisfaction. If you can follow that up with cooperation and a resolution to your customer’s problem, then you score a major win for your brand and your bottom line.
Let’s look at a few examples.
My friend Chris had a gloriously memorable experience when he visited Paris last year. The world’s best museums, crepe-filled side streets, charmingly rude locals, and beautiful women everywhere… these were his glowing impressions of the City of Light. Everything was great until he had to take the RER commuter train to Charles De Gaulle International Airport. Confusing metro stations, attendants that didn’t speak English, and broken change machines collided and Chris missed his flight. A grown man near tears, he explained his story to the Air France front desk lady and here is what she said:
“We’re very happy you enjoyed your stay in Paris, and we wouldn’t want you to leave here with a bad impression of France. I’ll find you an alternate route that leaves today… no charge to you.”
To this day he remembers this experience, tells the story to his friends whenever ‘France,’ ‘Paris,’ ‘travel,’ or ‘airlines’ come up in conversation, and is a smiling, walking spokesperson for Air France and French tourism.
Customer retention cost: $600-$1000
I got an iPhone last fall and have nurtured a tumultuous love-hate relationship with it ever since. About three months ago, its software crashed and needed intervention from Apple tech support. My guy was courteous, solved my problem, and then reminded me that my phone was still under warranty and could be replaced by Apple if the crash happened again. A month or two later, it did, and I made myself an in-person appointment at my local Apple store. When I went for the appointment, my new tech support guy couldn’t reproduce my problem… thus invalidating my complaint. However, here is what he said:
“It looks like your phone is ok, but since we already set the expectation that we’d replace your phone, we’ll go ahead and set you up with a new one today.”
He was wearing a t-shirt that said “Not all heroes wear capes,” and I thought I maybe saw a halo floating around his head. The Apple-Susan relationship is now 100% love-love, and I’ve since told all my friends.
Customer retention cost: $400
GES is a multinational exhibition logistics and management corporation.
I recently helped a 10-person startup exhibit at its first industry conference, and we brought in a pinball machine. Apparently, GES has a clause in its contract that says no one but a GES employee may wheel things from the loading dock to the booths. Carry by hand, yes. Wheel, no. The charge for wheeling a pinball machine (weighing in at 250 lbs) 200 feet from the loading dock to the booths, was $650 – more than the entire cost of rental for the machine itself.
Since I didn’t receive the handbook that describes this clause, I was irate at this nasty surprise at the end of a long conference. I pleaded with the sales manager, knowing that $650 would be a big hit for a small company, talking about customer satisfaction and retention. Here is what she said:
“The rules are the rules. It’s right there in the handbook, and if you didn’t see it, that’s not our problem. You wheeled, you didn’t carry. There is a fee associated with that.”
Wow. My reaction? Still simmering… and I’m now writing this blog post.
Customer retention cost: $650
What’s a corporation to do
All of these companies have two things in common –
1) They’re big corporations with multi-million or multi-billion dollar annual revenues.
2) They all have the potential to extract multiple decades of customer patronage from me and from my growing network.
Folks, it’s only a few hundred bucks. If your company can afford to spend tens of thousands on marketing collateral, why not invest a fraction of that in word-of-mouth marketing to achieve a lifetime of returns?
If you think your customers are expensive – too expensive, perhaps, for you to want or need them as a customers – then you should either plan on monopolizing the market so you don’t have to compete, or you should close shop. If your customers love you, they will come to your parties. They will wear your t-shirts. They will watch your commercials – voluntarily and repeatedly – on YouTube. They will buy your products even when they’re neither the cheapest nor the best.
Listen, be empathetic, be consistent, and respond to customer desperation (not just whim). You may lose the fight, but you’ll win the customer.