By now you know how important positive referrals and word-of-mouth recommendations are for your business. No matter how much money and expertise you pour into an advertising campaign, there is no more effective form of advertising than genuine word-of-mouth referrals. Consumers today are naturally skeptical of advertising, but are conditioned to trust friends, relatives, and acquaintances.

If you can inspire your customer base to become “raving fans”, your business is going to grow. But the opposite is also true.

Just as positive buzz surrounding your business spreads quickly, so does negativity. Raving fans are a valuable asset to your business, but unhappy customers can have an opposite but equally powerful impact.

In addition to spreading bad reviews, these unhappy customers can make your employees miserable and drive up costs. Vocally unhappy customers are often unpleasant to deal with. And their repeated complaints and service requests mean that they cost significantly more to service than do happy customers.

What causes customers to become so upset with your business that they will actually spend time complaining about it to their friends?

It’s more than just a poor experience with your products or services. Most consumers are willing to forgive a business for making a mistake. What will upset your customers, virtually every time, is the feeling that your business doesn’t care about them.

For that reason, your efforts to eliminate these unhappy customers shouldn’t be centered on your products and services. (Although improving the quality of your offerings should always be a goal.) Instead, make sure it is clear to every customer that you truly value their business and care about their experience.

Here are a couple of ideas to consider implementing:

  1. Identify customers that are at risk. Whether it is because they have expressed their unhappiness or because your service hasn’t been as good as it should have been, identify customers that are “at risk.”

  1. Create an action plan for dealing with unhappy customers. Once you’ve identified customers as potentially unhappy, take steps to restore their confidence in your business. This could mean assigning an account manager to check in with them on a weekly basis or offering additional value the next time they return to your store. Whatever you come up with, it’s essential that you systemize it so that each “at risk” customer receives the appropriate level of attention.

  1. Create a specific follow-up procedure for complaints. When a customer calls with a complaint or a service request, don’t just help them resolve it. Follow up several days later just to see how things are going. I can promise you that this call will surprise and impress your customer.

Negativity is toxic for your business as you seek to grow. Take steps to stop it from spreading!

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