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
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
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
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
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
*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
*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
Jeanne Rinaldo is vice president of relationship management
for Integrated Loan Services. She
may be reached at (800) 842-8423 or e-mail email@example.com.