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Reverse mortgages: How this non-conforming product is gaining popularity

Jul 12, 2005

The wheels that don't squeak should worry youJeanne RinaldoClient satisfaction, Customer feedback, Client relationships If a complaint is a gift, what do you call it if no one's complaining? Should you settle for the old axiom, "No news is good news?" Not in my experience. I think it's foolish to assume that silence from your customers is a good thing. I've found that the quiet clients are the ones who leave. They don't make a fuss about problems. They let their complaints build up until they think it's easier to leave than attempt to fix all that's wrong. If you study human nature, you know that most people just don't complain. Remember the last time a waitress stopped by your table to ask, "Is everything alright?" "Fine, fine," you mumbled through a mouthful of cold potatoes and rubbery meat. Why? Because complaining is tough on everyone, including the complainer. So, you just swallow (literally) the bad service or awful food and vow never to go back to the restaurant again. I call it the "accumulation of silences." These are all the times when a client experiences a problem and chooses not to say anything about it. Once those silences build up, anyone who asks an innocent question like "How's it going?" is likely to unleash a floodgate of complaints that no one can fix. Why? Because that was the last straw as far as the client is concerned. At that point, they feel it's easier to start over with a new vendor. Here are my profiles of the most common "non-squeaky wheelers," the people who never complain until it's too late. 1. The Satisfied Client This is what we'd like to assume when we don't get complaints that everything is well and things are going just fine. All of us have those satisfied clients (thankfully) and that's good. But, my contention is that there are fewer of them than we think. 2. The Accumulator This person is so busy that they allow problems to mount up. All it takes is for someone to ask an innocent question like "Is everything okay?" to open the floodgates of everything you've done "wrong" (in their eyes) for as long as you've been working with them. Do you want that client to be delivering that tirade to a competitor, another client of yours or, even worse, a potential client? Or, do you want to clear the air by letting them unload on you before the "flood" builds up? It's a terrible choice, but I suggest you pick the latter or suffer problems that are more far-reaching. 3. The Thinker This client is the one who says to themselves, "They must know this already." This implies that you know about the problem and are choosing not to do anything about it. That can't be good for business. 4. The Runner These people hate conflict and will do anything to avoid it. For them, it's easier to run away and find a new vendor than to let you know about a problem. 5. The Avoider You can summarize this person with one phrase: "It's not my job." 6. The Procrastinator It is human nature to put off a tough conversation. Most of us are very good at putting things off until they just go away. Just remember, this might mean that your client hopes your company will go away. 7. The Busy Bee This person uses the excuse that pointing out a problem will take up too much of their time and energy. They will tell themselves "I'm too busy. I'll find the easiest way out." And, I'll bet you know what that will be going to another vendor. What's a Company to Do? Make it easy for your clients to offer good, honest, regular feedback and respond to them. What you do about the complaint allows you to keep and grow your client base. If you encourage the non-squeaker to squeak, then you'd better respond to what they say. That means developing a company culture that treats every complaint as the key to developing a better way of doing things. We're back to the idea of a complaint as a gift. And, what you do with that gift holds the key to your company's growth or decline. So, how do you develop your relationship with your clients to the point where they feel safe enough to complain about things while there's still time to fix them? Here are a few tips: *Encourage your customers to become partners. Underscore the fact that both of you can and should work together to make the relationship more productive. *Respond to all customer complaints professionally and courteously. If you want their requests to be constructive, make sure that you respond to them politely. This may sound pretty basic, but I can't tell you the number of times that I've heard stories about surly responses to clients' complaints. *Make sure your responses are direct and professional. Give specific and realistic feedback about what the next steps will be in response to a complaint. For example, will you report it to a supervisor? Will you research why the problem happened and how it can be fixed? When will you get back to them? Will your response be in writing, by phone or by e-mail? *Use what is working well as a model to change what needs to be improved. Rather than just looking at the negative, try considering the positive comments you are getting. Repeat the actions that lead to positive feedback and you'll end up with a client-driven solution. *Suggest the solution. If a client doesn't like the way things are going now, suggest other ways to handle similar situations. Then, find out if using one of those alternatives would work better for them. *Set a reasonable timeframe for the resolution. Once a client feels safe enough to complain, make sure you have an agreement with them that includes a timeline for a response. *Make sure you're including the right people. If you want to make constructive changes, details about the problem need to come from the right people. *Respond with a thank you and more. If a customer opens up with a complaint, what should they expect in return? The first thing is a thank you. Thank them for being vocal and thank them for helping you improve the way you do things. Then, they have a right to hear a recap of what you heard about the problem to make sure that everybody involved heard it the same way. Lastly, they deserve an honest assessment of how realistic any solutions are. So, instead of responding with an automatic "We'll fix that," I suggest you deliver an explanation of what you can do, when and why. The bottom line is this: No news is not always good news. Cultivating honest and involved relationships with clients means that they feel safe delivering complaints that are gifts, not time bombs. Jeanne Rinaldo is vice president of relationship management for Integrated Loan Services. She may be reached at (800) 842-8423 or e-mail [email protected].
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