By Jason Mitchell
How your customer feels about you, your company, your staff and your business has a very real impact on the success of your business. Sometimes your customer will share how they feel, but more often than not, they never do or they never have the opportunity to provide that feedback to you directly. This is especially true when their feedback is negative. While I was introduced to this idea through my work at e-roleplay, where we provide feedback about how customers feel in sales situations, its power only became truly clear when I paid attention to how this plays itself out in real life.
Here’s an example from my recent life as a consumer where a company had the chance to create a loyal repeat customer who would promote them by word-of-mouth, but instead created the opposite—a customer who would only speak of the company in damaging terms.
My home in Toronto is a 2 bedroom, semi-detached house that was built in 1920 on a quiet street. It suffered for years at the hands of its previous owner, a self-professed handyman who lived there for a quarter of a century and whose home repair choices were baffling. One of the more interesting and dangerous surprises we discovered upon moving in was the previous owner’s creative wiring: old knob-and-tube wiring mashed together with newer strands of copper wire. So, some of the first calls we made were to get quotes from several electrical companies. One day when I couldn’t get out of work, a company we’d contacted sent an electrician to our house to provide an estimate, so my wife stayed home to meet with him. When she opened the door and asked him to come in, he looked blankly at her and asked if the owner of the house was home—meaning, of course, the man of the house. You can imagine how well that went over.
What is interesting about this experience—as it relates to creating positive word-of-mouth for your business, at least—is that while my wife was not exactly friendly to this man, she chose to play it cool. She did not yell at him or call him a sexist dinosaur. Within seconds of meeting the electrician, she knew she would never give a dime to this person or his company, but she was not going to argue with him in her home: she still had some use for him. My wife let him come in and got his estimate but, unbeknownst to him, she did so only in order to use his quote as a negotiation tool with the other companies. (We eventually went with someone whom we both felt was professional, capable and talked us through each step of the process, making us feel informed and comfortable.) When the original electrician followed up with us later that week, she told him that we were going with someone else. Even when he lowered his price to compete for our business so that his was the lowest price, we went with the second electrician. In sales, a lower price is not the trump card it’s made out to be sometimes.
The idea behind someone being a loyal customer who promotes a company has been converted into numbers, percentages or scores in several different ways by several different people, but it is more than a metric. It is a real and important part of life as a consumer. My experience with the electrician, among many other examples from my day-to-day life, made me realize that when we’re making a decision about where to spend our money, how we feel about the person with whom we’re dealing becomes not only a major criterion for our decision-making process, it often becomes the only criterion. This is especially true when deciding between companies whose services are essentially the same.
The critical piece that was missing for the unsuccessful contractor in the above example was feedback on how his “owner” comment was perceived. He may have been able to read body language or facial expression if he were more alert to the signals, but often even that kind of feedback is hard to spot. Direct, real-time verbal feedback from the customer’s perspective is worth its weight in gold. Business professionals should be paying attention to how their customers or clients feel about them, and they should actively seek this feedback in different ways. There are, after all, a lot of other choices out there.