What's a customer worth?
A customer at the local supermarket or at the corner Fedex Print shop might spend $10,000 or even $25,000 over the course of a few years. That's why marketers are so willing to spend so much time and money on coupons, promos and ads getting people to start doing business with us.
But what happens when it goes wrong? What if a service slip or a policy choice threatens that long-term relationship?
If you know what's broken, you can fix it for all the customers that follow. It seems obvious, but you want to hear what customers have to say. After all, if people in charge realize what's not working, the thinking is that they might want to change it.
At the same time, a critical but often overlooked benefit of open customer communication is that individuals want to be heard. Your disgruntled customer doesn't want to hear you to make excuses, and possibly doesn't even want you to fix yesterday's problem (probably too late for that), but she does want to know that you know, that you care, and that it's not going to happen again. Merely listening, really listening, might be enough.
Big organizations (and smaller, unenlightened ones) grab onto the data benefit and tend to ignore the "listening" one. Worse still, in their desire to isolate themselves from customers, they industralize and mechanize the process of gathering data (in the name of scale) and squeeze all the juiciness out of it.
If you live in the US, you might try calling 800-398-0242. That's the number Fedex Print lists on all their receipts, hoping for customer feedback. It's hard to imagine a happy customer working her way through all of these menus and buttons and clicks, and harder still to imagine an annoyed customer being happy to do all of this data processing for them.
The alternative is pretty simple: if you're about to lose a $10,000 customer, put the cell phone number of the regional manager on the receipt. That's what you and I would do if we owned the place, wouldn't we?
Answer the phone and listen. It's an essay test, not multiple choice.
When in doubt, be human.