Love the customer who hates you

I have a column in Business Week’s customer-service issue arguing that customers who complain about you are doing you a great favor. Here‘s the foreshortened version that fit in the magazine. And here‘s my longer draft. Snippet from the draft:

Here’s some free advice: Go to Google, enter any of your company’s brands followed by the word “sucks,” and you will see the true consumers’ reports. Brace yourself, for it won’t be pretty. Wal-Mart’s unofficial Google Sucks Index turns up 165,000 results; Disney 530,000; Google 767,000. What’s yours?

Now don’t get mad at these people. Instead, help them get even with you. For these angry customers are doing you a great favor. They care enough about your product or service to tell you exactly what went wrong. Other customers may just desert you and head to the competition. But these customers are telling you what to fix. Listen to them. Help them. Respond to them. Ask their advice – and they’ll give it to you. . . .

You see, this is about more than putting out blog fires or quieting complaining customers. It’s about more than customer service; indeed some say that customer service is the new marketing (that was the title of a conference this month in San Francisco). No, this is about collaboration with your customers in every aspect of your business. If you enable them, they will provide customer service for each other. They will help design your products. They will sell your products. They will create your marketing message – they always did control your brand.

So when you reach out to that kvetching blogger you found online, you’re engaged in customer service as well as PR, market research, marketing, sales, and product development. You are reinventing your company – and, if you get there before your competitors, your industry. That is why you shouldn’t relegate this vital task to one department or some interns or consultants. You need to reorganize the company around this new relationship with your customer, finally putting that customer at the center of everything you do because – thanks to Google – you can. If you don’t, well, you’ll suck.

: Also in the current Business Week: a collaboratively annotated and updated version of Steve Baker’s and Heather Green’s popular cover story on blogs.

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  • Brian O’Connell

    That’s funny. Whenever I’m about to spend some fair coin on some product or service, i google the name with “sucks” or “rip-off” or “scam” to see what people are saying.

  • Someone told me recently that the staff of Marks & Spencers (greatly loved UK high street chain) are told to pay special attention to the people who complain most because they are the ones who spend all the money!

  • Steve

    Customer service is more important than advertising, I agree. Ads get the customer into the store, but if there aren’t smiling faces and folks willing to help, that won’t put coin in the till. I’ve stopped shopping at select stores and stopped going to certain restaurants because of the poor customer service. While my server/customer service rep might’ve been having a bad day, I’ve always been taught to leave it at the door – it’s not my fault, so don’t take it out on my shopping experience.

    While I’m ranting, wanted to let you know about a newsreader out there that exists that bases it’s content on what the user actually WANTS to see. It’s called ‘Sprout’. Very intuitive, quickly learns what you like to read and what doesn’t interest you. There’s a free trial on now. You can find it here:

  • Bill K.

    You couldn’t pay a business consulting firm enough to find out the firsthand problems with your produce/service, and here you have people giving you the information for free.

    However, Jeff, you might be missing the hierarchical structure of a large business. Somehow the bad news had to make it’s way up the ladder, against the pecking order. Also, there are highly successful companies, such as Apple, that will release new products without anticipating customer concerns, eg the MacBook Air’s lack of a non-user-replaceable battery.

  • dimwittnott

    I wonder if this is such an accurate measurement:
    Herre is my test from Google…..
    Results 1 – 10 of about 141,000 for jarvis sucks. (0.27 seconds)

  • most smart guys buy up there own domains.. what happened to any news is good news.. “david windham sucks” 0-results

  • Its good advice, when people are pissed off, just be nice and fix there problem. Be calm and be nice.

  • I can’t believe Comcast’s score is only 102,000.

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  • It’s also a great way for journalists to find backlashes against companies in their beat…

  • Russell Campbell

    When you say “But you’ll still find fresh complaints, for Dell has work to do to improve its products and services”, I say “You ain’t lyin’, bro!” I bought a Dell Inspiron 1720 at Thanksgiving. The hardware is fine, but every interaction with Dell since then has been nothing but a nightmare. Dell has lost me as a customer and reading posts in the Dell forums, I see they continue to lose customers at a nice clip.

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