The famous Marshall Field once was walking through his Chicago store and heard one of his clerks arguing with a customer.
"What are you doing?" he asked the clerk.
"I'm settling a customer complaint," the clerk said.
"No, you're not," said Field. "Give the customer what she wants."
Is the customer always right? If you are a business owner, the answer almost always is yes. Otherwise, they are people who do business with someone else.
Years ago, I saw a study for Travelers that showed persuading people to complain could be, in fact, the best business move a company could make. Only 9 percent of the noncomplainers with a gripe involving $100 or more would buy from the company again. On the other hand, when people did complain and their problems were resolved quickly, an impressive 82 percent would buy again.
A customer who has a good experience with a company will tell five other people. But a customer who has a bad experience will tell 15 other people, and with social media today, it can become tens of thousands.
Customers can also be your best teachers. True, you often learn a lesson the hard way, but Customer Service 101 is something you won't learn in school.
Stew Leonard, founder of a famous chain of supermarkets in Connecticut and New York, said: "Customers who complain are your friends because they are giving you a chance to improve instead of just walking away."
To paraphrase a famous quote, ask not what your customer can do for you, ask what you can do for your customer.
Now put the shoe on the other foot. Think like a customer. Stop to consider whether your customers are receiving fair treatment. When you approach the problem from the customer's side, the view is quite different.
As consumers ourselves, we should also expect a satisfactory result. When you don't get what you paid for, agree to, contract for, or reasonably expect, you should look for a resolution to the problem. And you should give the vendor the opportunity to fix it. I recommend following these steps:
Determine the solution you want. Do you want a replacement, your money back or some other remedy? Be specific so you can convey from the start that you expect a resolution to the problem.
Start in the right place. Don't go to the CEO of the company until you've exhausted the lower rungs. Customer service is usually the best place to start. If customer service can't help you, ask to speak with a manager.
Target where to take your complaint next. Don't just call headquarters and voice your complaint to the receptionist. Find out who has the authority to address your complaint.
Control your emotions. When you're overwhelmed with frustration, vent your anger in a letter — but wait a few days to decide whether to send or rewrite it. Humorous complaint letters are more likely to get noticed and acted upon. Also, remember to single out those employees who tried to help. Praise can be just as effective as criticism.
Keep copies of all correspondence. A good record of your attempts to resolve the problem can be helpful if you ultimately need to take legal action.
Mackay's Moral: If a business knows what's good for it, it knows what's good for a customer.
Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.