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John Rose's Blog

Lemons to Lemonade: Turning Customer Problems Into Marketing Opportunities.

It has been said that happy customers tell no one; unhappy customers tell everyone. And in our digital world "everyone" now means…EVERYONE.

Thanks to social media, at no time in the evolution of business has marketing and customer satisfaction been so intertwined. Today, a few angry, motivated consumers can unravel the most robust communications program. Yet, few companies seem to understand this interrelationship, and even fewer have a meaningful plan in place to address customer concerns in a swift and effective manner. They simply don't see these problems for the opportunities they really are.

Sales and marketing departments shouldn't be running away from complaining customers…but toward them. Win over a disenfranchised consumer and you have a customer for life. Do it often enough and you will build a reputation as a company that can be counted on…a company that may not always get it right, but always does the right thing. That kind of reputation can't be won any other way -- no matter how much you spend on advertising or sponsorships or celebrity endorsements.
In fact, when your company screws up (it has and it will), or even when the customer may be at fault, I suggest you go above and beyond the mere fix, refund or perfunctory response.

Poor customer service is commonplace. Great customer service is the stuff of legends.

Years ago when a British Airways customer discovered he had left his coat in the airport lounge after boarding his flight from London to New York, he was assured that it would be sent to him on the next flight. Just eight hours, later he was astonished to land in New York and have the coat handed to him as he was stepping from the plane. British Airways had sent the coat on the next Concorde flight -- easily beating his slower 747 across the Atlantic. How impressed was that customer? Do you think he told anyone? He told EVERYONE! I read the story in an article by Virgin Atlantic owner Richard Branson. And he hates British Airways! And here I am retelling it in my blog -- long after the supersonic Concorde made its last flight. What a powerful endorsement that is for British Airways! (I also heard years ago that upon discovering that an older couple arrived too late to make their Virgin Atlantic flight to New York and would miss their daughter's wedding, Branson put them both on the Concorde. They saw their daughter get married.)

Or how about the time my one year old Amazon Kindle refused to switch on? I called Amazon to find out how to have my Kindle fixed, expecting a lengthy saga of phone calls and disappointment. Instead, the cheerful customer service representative told me she was overnighting a brand new Kindle to my hotel and that I could return the broken one at my leisure using the packaging and postage that would arrive with the replacement. Has Amazon won me as a customer for life? You bet they have.

There is no such thing as a perfect product or perfect service. No organization gets it right every time. A company is really judged by how well they manage the process when they get it wrong; by how well they solve a customer's problem.

How does your company handle customer problems and complaints? Imagine if your organization gathered its sales, marketing and service teams together with the mandate to put a plan in place that authorized its managers to occasionally thrill customers like Virgin Atlantic or British Airways have done. What could a few legendary stories do for your company's reputation?

The old adage of "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" is apropos here. Only in this case the "lemon" is a customer problem and the "lemonade" is the sweetest resolution to that problem that your company can concoct. Think about that the next time one of your customers has a sour experience.