Silent Customers – not a good sign

“For every customer who bothers to complain, 26 other customers remain silent.” – Research

The statistics and research do not lie – most customers will not bother to complain. Why should they when there are so many options in the market today? Silent customers are however, the kind you do not want your business to have – they won’t get mad, won’t complain – they just stop buying your offerings and never interact with you again and may even take some others out with them. How soon and how many times does your company notice and step up to get these silent customers back? If your company does not notice, the harsh truth is that you are not listening, your customer service is way below the mark or you think that one or two customers won’t make too much difference or you have given up them up without really trying hard enough. The impact of a customer will be felt when they go to competition or even if they are just silent, it is worthwhile to go after them and win them back.

For a business to succeed it must have a large, active and profitable customer base. If the number of dormant and silent customers is increasing, you must swing in to action. You may feel that your company has been doing an exceptional job for them through great customer service and yet they leave or stop business without saying a word. Silent customers should be the scary part of any business since you would not be able to ascertain what went wrong, what they need and how you can get them back to doing business. In the words of Bill Gates – “your most unhappy customers are the greatest source of learning”- this is true but only when they are complaining.

– Try not to be in denial. The truth is customers don’t become silent customers suddenly. It happens over time – small things add up and then something happens which proves to be the tipping point. The reason customers remain silent is probably they were ‘expecting you to finally mess up’ and so do not see the point of complaining. And another fact is that at some point, not all your customers are pleased with your company. At no point should your company stop tracking customer behaviour and business. It is critical to avoid silent customers who will take their business elsewhere.

– Customers are patient up to a point and actually could be putting up with a lot till they feel that they would be more welcome elsewhere – getting offerings and customer service they deserve. It is strange that companies would let this happen since retaining customers and keeping them happy takes a lot of effort as it is but trying to win back a customer takes much more – at least 5 to 10 times more. Over time displeased customers become silent customers and start providing less and less business which would go unnoticed if the company is not tracking the customer’s journey. Also if your company has not kept track of the customer’s growth which may be exponential and yet the business they are giving you does not match, you would never be able to control the damage soon enough or well enough. Even if your business is successful, there is no such thing as too much success. And even then, you would always have customers who would be displeased and would complain – accept that, keep track of it and remedy it. It is way better than having too many silent customers and therefore not knowing what else you should do or how to make it better.

The real reason why companies lose customers or make silent customers is because the process to complain is really tough and demands a lot of effort from the customer. At best a customer would grumble and never go back. Why make the effort – they can get the products and services from so many others and with better customer service. Honestly, if you have customers it is obvious that you must have a complaints department as well. If there is no clear route to complain or vent their ire, they would avoid doing so rather than being embarrassed or being shunted from person to person. They leave – without ‘saying a word’ – your dreaded silent customers.

For companies it is detrimental and ideally they must not wait till something goes wrong. Allow easy communication between customers and your company, solicit their feedback regularly and make it easy for them to complain. Ensure that the customer service agents manning the complaints desk are empowered to take decisions and trained to serve the customer well. Even if you do mess up, the customer will be at ease knowing that if and when they complain, your company will do something about it and this keeps them with your company with a level of trust and satisfaction.

Complaints are a reality and when companies are willing to accept this and do something about those complaints, customers will not remain angry for too long. The sad part is that most companies loathe complaints and complaining customers. Just because they have achieved certain milestones and successes they refuse to accept that customers can be unhappy and ever leave them. They never solicit information or feedback and even if a customer does become angry enough to have an outburst, they treat it as a nuisance. Obviously such companies will never notice silent customers who leave without a word. Deal with complaints and treat them as opportunities to get better. If the customer is particularly annoyed, just saying sorry will not cut it – the effort would have to be much more and persistent.

Companies that are serious about attracting and retaining customers, invest in Quality Initiatives, Zero Defect drives and such to ensure that they serve their customers with the highest level of service. However, since the business world is so unpredictable even the best of efforts may run in to trouble but customers are most likely to overlook these lapses so long as your recovery mechanisms are in place and pressed in to action immediately. Every customer service person must be empowered to do everything possible to remove the issue and fix the problem even a premium to your company. Being prepared for such unexpected problems will allow your company to counter them and give your customers less chance to complain. Many times the customer is complaining more about the way they have been treated rather than a problem with the product. It is your job to find out what is actually bothering them.

– The first thing is to ensure that you have no silent customers. You must know what customers feel and need and the best way to do that is to directly ask them. If the particularly displeased, reach out to them face to face and ask them to tell you what you should do more of and what you should improve on.

– Customers really do not wish to leave. They want to stay but need to know that they are wanted and if they have a problem it will be attended to.

– Complaining customers must never be allowed to become silent customers. It costs a lot to get an external company to conduct a market research in order to understand what your customers expect. In fact complaining customers must be rewarded – they have been troubled by something your company has done and so it is your responsibility to reward them for bringing it to your notice rather than just walking away. No effort must be spared to bring them back and to make them feel that they have done great service to you by complaining. Customers who have almost left your company and been brought back are the ones who prove to be most loyal and profitable – assets every company would be lucky to have.

– From a cost perspective too, getting a new customer is much costlier than retaining the current one. Keep your customers whatever it takes and work towards never having silent customers.

Silent customers may not be providing direct feedback, but what they are saying is that there is a gap in your service and your company should be paying more attention.

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