I love my mom. But when she tells me I’m the smartest, most talented person in the world, I realize she might be a bit biased.
I appreciate a regular dose of motherly love as much as the next person, but it’s important to recognize that not everyone shares your mother’s undying affection. The first time a bully made fun of you on the playground, your natural reaction was probably to fight back and reject such an unfounded accusation. A simple “I know you are, but what am I?” probably sufficed.
When confronted with criticism, our instincts take over. We either pick a fight or ignore the hater altogether as a defense mechanism.
This same tendency pushes numerous business owners to ignore customer complaints. The gripes cut too deep, so we put our fingers in our ears and try to drown them out. Each complaint feels like a personal affront to our business sensibilities, and cynicism begins to set in—it starts as a dismissive attitude about grievances but can easily morph into a distrust of the entire customer-service process.
Judith and Richard Glaser, founders of the Creating WE Institute, argue that there’s a neurochemistry to conversations. The Glasers report that our bodies produce more cortisol any time we encounter fear, rejection or criticism. That rush of cortisol “shuts down the thinking center of our brains and activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors.”
Suddenly, a complaint becomes a defining judgment that informs every interaction moving forward. We remember the negative things people say, and we become more guarded when similar situations present themselves. The longer you dwell on that negative moment, the more it affects your conduct.
Even when businesses don’t feel personally attacked, a response to consumer feedback isn’t guaranteed. Some companies are dismissive, chalking up criticism as one random yokel’s opinion. Others think a response is an admission of guilt, potentially opening the floodgates for more discontent.
Whatever the reason, your silence speaks volumes.
No response is a response
If you think not responding isn’t a response, think again. These antics rarely work on the schoolyard, and they certainly won’t be effective in the business world. Ignoring your customers only tells them that you don’t care.
Whether it’s criticism or praise, consumers increasingly use social channels to interact with brands. About 40 percent of complaints happen in public—on social media, review sites and forums. One could argue that customer service has become a spectator sport.
Onlookers wait to see how you react, and your response tells them whether they can trust your brand. Staying silent makes a bad situation worse, although that doesn’t stop one-third of all complaints from going unanswered. It can also take a heavy toll on customer advocacy—the Net Promoter Score of customers who don’t receive a reply to social media comments drops by 43 percent.
See complaints for what they are: opportunities to interact with customers. Even if someone is upset right now, that agitation easily goes away once you’ve addressed and resolved the issue. After all, it’s a lot cheaper to keep existing customers than it is to find new ones.
Find the silver lining
It might be tempting to stay silent, but you miss a tremendous opportunity to improve your organization by listening to complaints. If you don’t believe me, consider the following advantages a single response can provide:
Recover and retain unhappy customers: Many companies don’t respond to social media complaints at all. If they do, it’s far from timely. Customers are well aware of this shortcoming, and only 42 percent of people who complain on social channels expect a reply.
This presents an incredible opportunity to exceed expectations. Imagine how many minds you could blow—and hearts you could win—with a response. Even if you can’t solve a problem on the spot, the simple act of replying to a customer on social media increases customer advocacy by 20 percent.