Monday, August 27, 2007

A Client Complaint Can Sometimes Be a Gift

The reality of any great relationship is change and imperfection. As in a marriage, great client relationships require a lot of hard work to achieve longevity. At Makovsky + Company, we put a premium on building client loyalty by aiming to do everything right. Despite a client satisfaction program that has historically produced an amazing client retention rate, we take nothing for granted.

One of the philosophies of our Quality Commitment program based on years of experience - - is to solicit complaints that, some clients - - unless solicited - - will not tell you about. They are usually small problems, but not always! The aim is to put them on the table. This is executed either through a client questionnaire or our independent auditor who periodically calls clients for performance reviews.

In fact, we see client complaints as an opportunity to bring us closer to our clients and meet even higher standards.

We all know the rule of thumb: the customer is always right. Do you remember supermarket mogul Stew Leonard’s legendary quote?

Rule #1: The customer is always right.
Rule #2: If the customer is wrong, go back to rule #1!

This principle was so essential to the foundation of his business that Leonard had it etched in a three-ton granite rock at the front door of his store.

For me, Leonard’s rule rules the day. It’s almost irrelevant whether our clients are right or wrong about what they are concerned about — whether it’s a perceived strategic or executional failure, interpersonal problems or simply a lack of chemistry — it’s my belief that every problem is a colossal opportunity in disguise.

Why? Because if there is an issue, and you address it openly, quickly and effectively, you are demonstrating, in a really meaningful way, that you’re willing to go that extra mile. By achieving consensus, you’re changing rough waters to smooth sailing and engendering warmth and gratitude in clients who might have been only dimly aware of the problem before you gave them license to recognize it. Of course, for the complaint to serve as a gift, however, what went wrong must never go wrong again.

If there are occasions in which the client is genuinely wrong, is it worth getting the client to admit it? Or do Stew Leonard’s rules still apply? Where there is one-sided or mutual culpability, most clients are frequently willing to admit it. This is a plus and tells you something about the integrity of the client and his or her desire to strengthen the relationship.

Depending on the complexity of the issues and the personality of the client, you have an opportunity to bring in an outside auditor to hear both points of view and deliver an objective solution. Or a frank meeting between the leaders on both sides may solve the problem. For the complaint to be a gift, however, the turnaround must introduce — and resolutely adhere to — new, higher standards of performance.

I’ve had a few of these experiences in my career where the result has been, indeed, a gift: “a client for life.” What better payoff could you want?

Technorati Tags: relationships, client loyalty, client satisfaction, Quality Committment program, complaints, Stew Leonard, business, communications, public relations


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