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Do You Know the Power of Your Customers?

Back in the 1990’s the White House Office of Consumer Affairs commissioned a study on customer service.  One of the interesting statistics revealed was that an unhappy customer might tell twenty or more people about the problem they had with a company.  Since that time, many studies have confirmed that simple statistic is true.  However, in today’s world, twenty people may be a grossly underestimated number, at least for some unhappy customers.

People now blog, tweet, YouTube and Facebook about their experiences.  If the complaint goes “viral,” tens of thousands – maybe even millions – of people will learn about the problem.  An extreme example of this is Dave Carroll’s song posted on YouTube about how United Airlines broke his guitar.  It has been viewed 11 million times.

A scorned customer may tell others about the problem, which impacts reputation.  If that scorned customer chooses not to do business with the company, it impacts sales.  Hence, the customer has power.  How much power?

Meet Richard Vladovic.  According to an article in the Los Angeles Times (September 6, 2011), Vladovic had a dispute with his health insurance company.  He received a letter stating the insurance company overpaid his dentist for a mouth guard (Vladovic grinds his teeth at night) and was going to take the amount out of his deductible. When Vladovic called to complain he was bounced around to different call center reps, and in his mind, treated with disrespect.

This insurance company has a multimillion dollar contract with the Los Angeles Unified School District, and Vladovic is one of the thousands of people that the company insures.  What the insurance company didn’t know was that Mr. Vladovic is a member of the school district’s board, and the insurance company was about to find out how powerful one customer can be.  Vladovic convinced his fellow board members to kill the multimillion dollar contract.

You never know the power of your customers.  Maybe an even better word to describe this power is influence.  There will be times when you may not be able to make a customer happy.  That doesn’t mean you can’t treat them with dignity and respect.  Bad customer service will make a small problem large.  On the flip side, respect and courtesy can make a bad situation better, even if it doesn’t completely solve the problem.

Let the story of Richard Vladovic and the Los Angeles Unified School District remind us of the importance of managing the customer’s experience, even in the wake of a confrontation.  You never know how much power – or influence – one customer may have.

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Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is a customer service expert, professional speaker and New York Times bestselling business author who helps companies develop loyal relationships with their customers and employees.  For more information on Shep’s speaking programs and learning products, please contact (314) 692-2200.

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