Dissatisfied. Now What?

What do you do when a client is dissatisfied?

Angry!Maybe this has happened to you.

When I built the recruiting division for Chet Holmes’ and Tony  Robbins’ Business Breakthroughs International, we were able to help clients find top sales executives quickly and inexpensively. We offered an incredible business proposition: A flat-fee service for 60% less than competitors. Our success rate was north of 90% because we paid a lot of attention to our  clients’ needs and used a carefully designed psychological profiling system to screen out non-performer job candidates.

In one particular case, a client hired us to find a sales executive and we did, a true superstar who hit the ground running, closed $600K in deals in the first six months. Unexpectedly, he was fired. We interviewed the salesperson and found out our client never paid him. Then, our client requested that we refund our recruiting fee.

What? A Refund?

We did an incredible job for this client and the numbers prove that to be true. Faced with an “unreasonable” request, what do you think we did?

  • Protested his request and turned him down
  • Offered to find him someone else for free, but no refund
  • Offered him a full refund
  • Offered him a full refund AND offered to find him another sales superstar.

Here’s what happened….

Before I answer the question, I want to ask one of you.

What is more important: A fee paid or a pristine reputation? I bet I can predict what you will say. Ultimately, a pristine reputation is more important but it just burns me to the core when dealing with people who are thieves. Unfortunately, even the worst ethical conduct does not strip the offender of their right to mouth-off on the web.

Popular websites exist to allow anyone with a keyboard to vent. These complaint boards like ComplaintsBoard and Yelp have a very simple business model. They want you to post your complaints and they want you to read others’ complaints. This generates page-views and allows them to sell ads. No judgment, no fairness doctrine, not even proof of identity is required to smear the reputation of another company. It makes me crazy to think anyone with a grudge or with no reason at all can destroy a company

So what’s a business owner to do?

What I am about to explain may tee you off even more than the offending behavior. After all, it flies in the face of logic. In fact, it’s downright counter-intuitive but… time and time again it has been one of the most powerful business boosters I’ve ever deployed, and it set me apart from my competitors.

Building an army of free sales people

When I was building Timeslips Corp in the early 1990′s, we sold software on diskettes. Remember those? Anyone could buy Timeslips at a local retailer. Sometimes a new client couldn’t make it work or didn’t like how it worked or was running it every day with great success but decided nonetheless to request a refund. We had a refund policy, we had tech support, we had customer service, but you can’t please everyone, so we allowed refunds under reasonable circumstances.

Meet Alan Singer

That’s me. Alan Singer was my “customer service” alias which allowed me, the CEO, to deal with the most disgruntled of clients when no one could satisfy them. The unreasonable request: That’s where I come in, they were transferred to me. I listened to their problem, I was sympathetic, I tried to make sure they felt from me how much I cared.

But I took it one step further.

  • I offered a full refund no matter how long ago they bought
  • I offered to fix their problem
  • I provided free tech support for a year
  • I would do ANYTHING it took to get them working
  • I’ve even sent, at my own expense, a consultant to their office to help get a $99 product working

The birth of The Ambassador Program

vipI turned angry, unreasonable, disgruntled clients into Timeslips Ambassadors! I made them happy, I had motives of course: I wanted to understand what went wrong while using my product, but I also wanted them to tell the world how great we are. I created a little bit of a shared secret too.

I asked them not to tell anyone since we obviously cannot do this for everyone but only for them. This drove home how special I thought they were and indeed it worked. I followed up with personal letters to each of my Timeslips Ambassadors, I thanked them for giving us another chance and I invited them into our preferred-customer pre-release program. Once I perfected the process, I turned it over to customer service and they could take turns being Alan Singer too!

This super-charged testimonial program was one of the most powerful word-of-mouth initiatives ever launched.

How far did they go? Many of our Timeslips Ambassadors made heroic contributions. I had several reports of lawyers (our primary customer base) standing up at bar association meetings to sing our praises to their peers. Several others wrote glowing letters to the press, much more referred customers to us and we didn’t even have a real referral program! We discovered that one of our Ambassadors was teaching at a prestigious law school and arranged to give free copies of our entry-level product to all his graduating students. From that gesture, we launched a law-school give-away program that seeded future lawyers with our software, a program that bore fruit within two years.

Finally, the answer to the question I promised you at the beginning of this post:

We refunded his money in full and offered to find him another sales superstar. He took the money but didn’t take us up on our offer. He was ashamed or maybe he just went out of business. Funny how that works sometimes.

Now, let’s build an Ambassador Program for you!

Start by dispensing with the fear of being cheated, the concern of giving away your time or any other consideration you might have that stops you from converting a disgruntled client into an Ambassador.

  1. If you don’t have a significant cost-of-goods, offer a refund up-front to diffuse the situation
  2. Listen intently to the problem and make sure your client feels heard
  3. Offer to fix the problem even if you go above and beyond what you originally promised
  4. Then, do whatever it takes to make the client happy. Even if it’s actually unreasonable.

Now that your client is effusive with praise about how you went above and beyond the call of duty to help, ask for a tiny gesture, ask for a public testimonial on your facebook page. If you think you have earned the trust and respect to make a bigger request, ask your happy client to take out their cell phone, do a selfie testimonial, and ask for permission to post it.

In a month, check back in, make sure the client is still happy, maybe answer a few questions as needed. Keep the love flowing. If you do, you will build an army slowly of fanatical clients or customers who would take pride in associating with you and your products.

Isn’t that worth it?

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