Are you listening—REALLY listening—to your customers, even (perhaps especially) those that are upset?
When Erin Pepper began her job as head of marketing and guest relations at Le Pain Quotidien, a chain of 200+ bakery cafes, she announced to the management team a controversial plan: “I want to triple the number of complaints we get from customers,” she proclaimed.
That idea was NOT met with universal acclaim. But Erin explained, “We all agree we are a very good organization. But we’re not perfect. And some of the areas where we’re not perfect may be because we don’t even know we’re deficient.”
Erin got a green light to add nudges for feedback to just about every customer touch point. Website. Email. Social. Signage in the restaurants. At every turn, Le Pain Quotidien nearly begged customers to let the company know everything about their visit.
And guess what happened? They got three times more complaints. Some of those complaints were about things the company hadn’t considered. They addressed those issues, and guess what happened next? The complaints went away.
What Erin Pepper understands is something true and profound, yet not part of the listening playbook for most companies: to get fewer complaints, you first must get more complaints. It’s a two-step process. I talk more about Erin and her successes in my book, Hug Your Haters.
It’s also important to understand that while complaints can be frustrating for businesses, they are mathematically rare. In fact, just five per cent of unhappy customers complain in a form or fashion that the business can know about it, including phone, email, social, review sites, letters, and in-person gripes.
FIVE PER CENT! This means that the overwhelming majority of dissatisfied consumers stay silent and just stop giving you their money. The five per cent that take the time to tell you what they’d like you to improve upon are doing your company a favor, and that should not be ignored.
Further, one of the most powerful research findings in the history of business is that when customers have a problem, and your organization successfully solves that issue, those customers spend MORE and become MORE loyal than customers that never had a problem at all. That is remarkable, and means that your unhappy customers are your MOST IMPORTANT customers.
But all of this starts with listening. You can’t use customer feedback to improve your operations without listening. You can’t satisfy unhappy customers and trigger increased loyalty without listening. And in an increasingly noisy world, we need to listen harder than ever. Here’s how:
The Basics: Free, DIY Searches
All companies should at a minimum be using a combination of Google alerts and simple social media listening software. Even free versions may be enough for small businesses. You need to find public, online references to your company and your products or services. Most mentions of your business in discussion boards and forums will show up in Google, but it may take a while. If there are particular forums where your business is more likely to be referenced, and there almost assuredly are, manually review them every day or two and check for mentions. The same is true for review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, Glassdoor, Consumer Affairs, G2Crowd, TrustRadius, Spiceworks, or any of the hundreds of industry-specific rating platforms.
Do make sure to pay attention to discussion boards and forums. Many businesses ignore these online venues, assuming they are “not welcome” there, but in most cases the opposite is true.
Recognize that of all your customers, those that are most passionate about whatever you sell, are the ones that are spending their free time in a related online forum. That's where the hard core customers hang out, and typically they would LOVE it if your company found a customer question or complaint there, and jumped in with an answer.
Sterling Ball runs Ernie Ball, a company that makes musical instruments and accessories, and also owns Big Poppa Smokers, an e-commerce portal for barbecue hobbyists. Sterling and his team have robust forums set up for both organizations, providing a perfect way to listen to devoted customers every day.
“I want to be close enough to my customers to smell them,” Sterling told me. “And that’s why we love discussion boards so much.”
Intermediate: Dedicated Customer Service and Reviews Software
At the next level, companies should consider software that find mentions across many venues and roll them together in a unified dashboard. These software packages find and analyze tweets, Facebook posts, Yelp reviews, and the like. They can be real timesavers, especially for small businesses that do not have personnel devoted entirely to customer service. There are many great options like Yext, ReviewTrackers, and more. Some of these platforms will also assist you in soliciting reviews from customers, and will provide great analysis tools to find issues that impact just one of your locations, or all of them.
Because these tools tend to be reviews-focused, they are most appropriate for B2C companies with physical locations.
Advanced: Comprehensive Listening Software
For bigger companies, dedicated listening and response software, such as Cision, is often required to monitor and locate as many mentions as possible, across a wide swath of channels in social media and beyond. This is especially important for businesses that have many physical locations, as the listening function is usually performed by a central team that then distributes key mentions to each location, as warranted.
Another reason software is important in the quest to find all customer feedback is that much of that feedback doesn’t mention the company specifically.
Online customer service software company Conversocial partnered with New York University on research that found that more than one-third of all tweets to companies were about customer service issues, but that only three per cent incorporated the company’s Twitter username with the @ symbol. This means that many mentions of your business online—on Twitter and beyond—may be indirect, making it crucial that you have a system that surfaces those complaints and comments.
Plus, we’re now seeing more and more customers interacting with businesses in other social platforms, like Instagram, Messenger, and even Snapchat.
A Great Addition: Proactive Feedback Solicitation
Don’t just wait for customers to complain. Gauge the satisfaction of all of them (or at least a relevant cross-section) by using first-party reviews and/or satisfaction surveys.
When we think of customer feedback online, we often immediately consider third-party sites like Google Reviews, Yelp, et al. But first party reviews (customer reviews located on your own website) are just as important, especially now that Google is using first-party review volume as an organic SEO ranking factor.
Create a program where you ask customers (honestly, don’t cherry pick only happy customers) for their feedback using an email survey or similar, and then encourage them to create a review for your business on your site and/or third-party destinations.
Praise is Overrated
In business and in life, praise is massively overrated. Every time a friend, family member, or customer tells you how great you are, it feels terrific, right? But it teaches us NOTHING. Because in almost every case, we already know what we’re good at, don’t we?
What makes us better marketers, and businesspeople, and parents, spouses, and friends is negative feedback. Criticism is the petri dish for improvement, which is why it’s so important to embrace complaints, rather than ignore them.
Want to learn more about how listening to the right audiences will boost your brand? Then, download our free e-book, Listen: 5 Social Audiences Brands Can't Afford to Ignore.
Jay Baer has created five multi-million dollar companies, and was recently inducted into the Word of Mouth Marketing Hall of Fame. He is the President of Convince & Convert, a consulting firm that helps the world’s most iconic brands like The United Nations, adidas, 3M, and Oracle turn their customers into volunteer marketers. A New York Times best-selling author of five books, Jay is the host of the acclaimed "Social Pros" podcast. He’s also an avid tequila collector, and a certified barbecue judge.