Do you ask your customers what they expect?

By Rob Willock

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Customer service Customer

Willock: Complaints provide strong signals about customers' expectations
Willock: Complaints provide strong signals about customers' expectations
How do you handle customer complaints? Do you welcome them; do you measure them; do you act on them or do you ignore them?

I only enquire because the other day I was speaking to a pub industry supplier, and asking them how their business was going following some major changes to their products and prices. They replied: “We’re getting far fewer complaints these days — so that’s a good sign.”

Customer complaints are an important metric — perhaps more valuable than thank yous and testimonials. That is not to say that you shouldn’t cherish and promote every positive comment. But if you work on the principle that every problem is an opportunity in disguise, you’ll see the benefit 
of negative feedback.

A complaint shows that someone cares enough to let you know your service has fallen below their expectations. And it gives you the chance to put it right and to create loyalty and advocacy from the complainant.

One customer service director I know had a simple policy towards customer complaints. If the customer had even a shred of a justification for their grievance, he would issue an apology and a small goodwill payment.

His theory was that it would avoid a protracted and costly dispute (remember, even time costs money), it would defuse the situation and it would make the customer feel warmer towards the organisation.

That’s fine if it’s a corporation’s money, rather than your own. It’s less painful for Spirit’s 
Fayre & Square pubs to offer a no-quibble policy on its food than for a single-site tenant. But it’s always worth considering such a policy to engender customer confidence in your offering.

Economist Herbert Simon combined the words ‘satisfy’ and ‘suffice’ to talk about ‘satisficing’ customers. That is, doing just enough to satisfy. Any less and you fail to 
meet customer expectations, any more 
and you waste effort on things the customer 
doesn’t value.

But in order to strike this balance, you need to understand your customers and what they want. Your customers evaluate the service 
you offer via a process called ‘expectation disconfirmation’. They start with their expectations of your service (based on 
clues such as signage, price, word-of-mouth recommendations or prior experience) and measure your service by the extent to which it ‘disconfirms’ those expectations. If you meet 
or exceed their expectations they are satisfied. If you fall short of their expectations they 
are dissatisfied.

So the questions are: Do you ask your customers what they expect? Do you strive to meet those expectations? And do you measure your performance against those expectations and ultimately your customers’ satisfaction?

If you get a complaint, you have a strong signal about that customer’s expectations. And then you can choose whether you want to do what it takes to retain their business… or not.

Related topics Legislation

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