Keep your enemies closer.

Another article with a happy title today. That’s what happens when you don’t provide suggestions for day-to-day content!

Everyone has heard the saying Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, and it’s a good saying. This should be the golden rule of the feedback loop – don’t ask your best customers who constantly evangelize your product and make sure their friend’s cousin’s mother’s dog’s aunt has an account with you, but rather, ask the people that wouldn’t suggest your company if it could save their best friend’s life. That’s where the good stuff is going to come from.

  • Whenever someone cancels, ask them why they cancelled. Say is it something we did (people wise), something our product did that aggravated you, not enough money, etc.? That’ll give you a good idea of what you have to work, especially if you get a lot of similar reasons for cancellations.
  • Ask random customers what they think of your entire company, your product, etc. regularly. Don’t pick 10 members from your forums – pick 10 customer numbers using a random number generator like Send them an email and ask “Would you mind taking a brief survey about your experience with company XYZ so far?” As always, offer some sort of compensation. Whether it be a free T-shirt, a free month of service, or a $5 credit – do something.
  • Pay attention to complaints. When I ask a company I consult for, “Could you show me a list of some of your most frequent or most recent complaints?” and they say “Huh? We don’t keep a record of those.” I literally want to hit them. Suggestion: Don’t throw out complaints and pretend your company is a utopia and your product is what makes it a utopia. Pay attention to them. Log them, address them, and keep asking for them.
  • Read negative reviews. You should always read the most negative, meanest, nastiest, and most insulting reviews you can find about your company. You should then log them and actually act upon the suggestions. Do this especially if the reviewer is someone who’s well known in your industry or works for a publication, etc. that is well known (or both). (It works the other way, too. The newest and most idiotic writer on the planet can say something bad about your company, but if it’s in a big trade magazine or The New York Times – too bad.)
  • Ask the customers you hate. Ask the customers you hate to provide their opinions. Whether they’re simply annoying, rude, or very “opinionated”, ask them questions about your company, recent changes, new products, etc. Not only do these customers usually have their opinions about things in general, they’ll likely be more than happy to provide you with them.
  • Listen, darn it! When someone makes a suggestion, complains, or even makes so much as a whisper about something not perfect on your product – listen to it and hopefully act on it. At least explain to the customer “We’ve considered that, but in our tests, a majority of customers said they didn’t like the change.”

A bit longer of a post today, with a bit more content. Remember, complaints can’t be avoided and you should really take negative feedback as the best type you can get. Tomorrow’s post will be about what to do when a customer (or former customer) posts on a discussion board, tells a magazine, etc. about how horrible your product and company is.

4 Responses to “Keep your enemies closer.”

  1. Tom Vander Well said:

    May 11, 06 at 8:04 am

    You hit the bulls-eye! You can learn more about how to improve from one frustrated customer than you can from a hundred raving fans. The scary thing is that those frustrated customers can walk away without ever saying a word. They aren’t going to tell you how you’re doing – you have to ask! Thanks for letting me comment!

  2. Maria Palma said:

    May 12, 06 at 10:23 pm

    Every company has flaws, so it’s important to know what those flaws are and take steps to improve. We learn quite a bit about ourselves when our “wrongs” are exposed. It can be easy to just ignore them, but will definitely hurt you in the long run.

  3. Service Untitled » Sample Phone Survey (Part 2) - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Nov 09, 06 at 11:06 pm

    […] Read these posts. Before surveying, you should read these two posts: this one about gathering feedback and this one about keeping your enemies closer. They’ll provide you with some additional information on who you should survey and different types of surveys you can issue. […]

  4. Service Untitled » How to Handle Customers Using Profanity - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Mar 21, 07 at 10:55 am

    […] Service Untitled has an entire category that talks about dealing with angry, upset, or frustrated customers, entitled simply “Angry Customers.” The first post in the category talked about keeping your enemies closer. The next one (one that I liked a lot), talked about how to deal with angry customers posting on forums. After that, I started a series on handling complaints. […]