Big fans vs. squeaky wheels


May 6, 2024

Bob Williamson

Bob Williamson

We have all experienced a cancellation from an unhappy customer who never complained. Sometimes we even blame customers for never letting us know of their lack of satisfaction.

A known customer paradox is that our happiest customers are the ones who complained and had their issues resolved. It holds more weight to me when I read an unhappy product review that has been resolved, vs. a suspiciously glowing endorsement.

The challenge we face as service providers is what we do to leverage that dynamic without making customers complain. Here are some basic assumptions:

  • Most customers don’t like to complain. It can be uncomfortable and time-consuming.
  • Each customer complaint represents at least 10 times more customers with the same complaint. This can allow us to be virtual mind-readers.
  • Waiting for customers to complain is a bad plan.
  • Expecting satisfaction surveys to solve this issue is not dependable. Customer surveys reached saturation a few years ago.
  • Many customers refuse help, even when they can use it and will appreciate it.

Great service providers overcome these hurdles by doing the following:

  • They anticipate what causes complaints, and fix it for everyone.
  • They don’t simply ask “Is there anything else I can do?” They do it without asking.
  • Through many iterations, they continually fine-tune this process.

During my own pest control business days, I observed that most complaints centered around technician scheduling and our ability to follow notes when delivering a service. This included technicians showing up at the wrong time of day or the wrong place or missing the customer’s primary concern. These complaints far exceeded pest callbacks in terms of customer angst and internal blaming.

Our solution was a less-than-five minute daily debrief, with each technician and a supervisor or dispatcher reviewing the previous day’s notes. Assuming that all of us had already read and comprehended notes brings a high failure rate. Don’t rely on notes or signs alone as a way to manage operations. We found that this deliberate “quick debrief” approach simply forced us to take a moment and review. Most staff increased their attention to detail, compared to the time prior to our implementation of the debrief.

Here are some other examples I have witnessed as a consumer.

  • Uber or Lyft drivers who get out of their cars and assist with luggage vs. the many who don’t.
  • Service counter staff that acknowledge you with eye contact while waiting in line.
  • Car service centers that assist you in getting out of your vehicle into a rental vehicle. For example, I once watched a mom with three little kids with car seats in a monster SUV refuse help from a service manager in transitioning to a loaner. The aware service manager helped anyway.

We all need to find ways to take advantage of what we know and act without being told. It can be fun and rewarding when you sense the customer awareness of what just happened.


About the Author

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Williamson is pest & lawn director for Cetane Associates. He serves on the Pennsylvania Pesticide Advisory Board, is former president of the Lawn Care Association of Pennsylvania and former president of Warrington PA Rotary Club. For over 30 years, Williamson worked with Moyer, a large Mid-Atlantic residential service provider. Williamson has managed services including heating oil, propane, HVAC, plumbing, home security, swimming pool, lawn and tree care, and pest control.

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