Ever since high school marketing courses, right up through college, you hear the stories of the “silent customer.” Those individuals that purchase from businesses and when dissatisfied just quietly leave, never complain, simply just slip away. I always promised myself that I would never do that. As a business owner, I felt obligated to politely, but openly ask for a manager and share why I was unhappy and give them a chance to correct the situation. After all, if we as managers and owners don’t know there is a problem, how do we make it right and keep our customers and clients coming back?

Well, I was horrified this weekend to realize, that I have in fact, become a statistic. That percentage of the population that just quietly moves on.

It all started at a local retail store in our mall. I picked up some active wear as the sign said 70% off. I thought, “It is getting warmer out. These will be great for walking the dog.” I also grabbed a pair of earrings, marked 25% off. When I stepped forward to the counter to make my purchase I was informed that neither of the items was on sale and that someone must have put the wrong signs out. I just smiled, said that I understood and explained that I would not be purchasing anything after all. The employee just said, “Ok.” Never offered to call a manager or walk over to check out the sign.  As I was leaving, I thought, “This is my last time in this store. There is always something a little shifty about their sales.” And with that, I realized I was done. I won’t go back.

Over the last few months, I have walked away from several companies both with brick and mortar locations and online. Not once reaching out to “Chat” if I am on their website or ask for a supervisor if I am in a store.

Why? Several reasons:

  • I am in a rush. I don’t want to wait for someone to come from across the store and more likely than not, tell me what the employee has already shared.
  • I am frustrated that I really don’t see management on the floors anymore. Employees are stuck in the registers, or the lines are backed through the store and no management is in sight.
  • For that particular product or service, I am simply not brand loyal. I can easily go elsewhere for it. For brands I love, like Subaru, I may change dealers, but not brands.

So, how can we ensure our customers and clients feel comfortable telling us the negative stuff?

  • By making complaining easy. SHORT follow up surveys are fine. Don’t ask 15 questions that create more agitation. YELP has this mastered. Rate with stars and comment if you wish. AND, if you send out a survey, get back to your customers. Tell them that you read it, understood their point of view and what you plan to do to make things better. Then follow through.
  • Encourage clients to complain. Meet with each client during the year over coffee or lunch and ask, “What can we do better? How can we make your life easier? NEVER make excuses. Certainly, there are times when you cannot accommodate a customer’s request. Be honest and explain why you can’t meet that particular request, but offer an alternative. “I am sorry, I cannot meet with you in person every week as your company is across the country, but I will locate a very user friendly video program we can use, so we can talk face to face.”

As for me, I will try and do better. I likely won’t complain about all the missteps, not my style, but if I am at the point of no longer patronizing a business, I will stop, communicate and listen.

I really did want those earrings.


betsybestheadshot-Betsy McCloskey | Principal/Partner