When buyers want to complain about products or companies, they have many ways to do so. They can complain to the companies they’re upset with, tell their friends, or broadcast their concerns on the Internet. People who use every Internet site possible to bash a company are called verbal terrorists. The term was coined by Paul Greenberg, a marketing analyst who authored the wildly popular book CRM at the Speed of Light.
Should companies worry about verbal terrorists? Perhaps so. A recent study indicates that customer satisfaction scores could be less important to a firm’s success or failure than the number of complaints its gets. 1To measure the tradeoff between the two, customer satisfaction guru Fred Reicheld devised something called the net promoter score. The net promoter score is the number of recommenders an offering has minus the number of complainers. 2 The more positive the score, the better the company’s performance. According to another recent study, a company with fewer complaints is also more likely to have better financial performance.
Studies also show that if a company can resolve a customer’s complaint well, then the customer’s attitude toward the company is improved, possibly even beyond the level of his or her original satisfaction. Some experts have argued, perhaps jokingly, that if this is the case, a good strategy might be to make customers mad and then do a good job of resolving their problems. Practically speaking, though, the best practice is to perform at or beyond customer expectations so fewer complaints will be received in the first place.
Customers will complain, though, no matter how hard firms try to meet or exceed their expectations. Sometimes, the complaint is in the form of a suggestion and simply reflects an opportunity to improve the experience. In other instances, the complaint represents a service or product failure.
When a complaint is made, the process for responding to it is as important as the outcome. And consumers judge companies as much for whether their response processes seem fair as whether they got what they wanted. For that reason, some companies create customer service departments with specially trained personnel who can react to complaints. Other companies invest heavily in preparing all customer-facing personnel to respond to complaints. Still other companies outsource their customer service. When the service is technical, marketers sometimes outsource the resolution of complaints to companies that specialize in providing technical service. Computer help lines are an example. Technical-support companies often service the computer help lines of multiple manufacturers. A company that outsources its service nonetheless has to make sure that customer complaints are handled as diligently as possible. Otherwise, customers will be left with a poor impression.