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Prioritizing Unhappiest Customers May Be Costing You

The most universal rule of effective customer service strategy is that it is people focused, but data driven. When it comes to qualitative data, that usually takes the form of customer satisfaction survey results. With the popular five-box model of customer satisfaction, customers are separated into the following groups: “very satisfied” (top), “satisfied,” “neutral,” “dissatisfied” and “very dissatisfied” (bottom). We’ll look at why prioritizing unhappiest customers may not be the proper strategy.

However, many firms misinterpret this data thanks to the prevalence of Customer Satisfaction Myth #1: Your unhappiest customers should always take first priority. The truth is prioritizing unhappiest customers can be costing you business.

Prioritizing Unhappiest Customers: Why Unhappy Customers Grab Your Attention

Research has found that focusing on the middle three boxes (satisfied, neutral and dissatisfied) rather than the bottom three (neutral, dissatisfied and very dissatisfied) leads to better customer engagement. Despite this, many businesses still divert a disproportionate amount of resources to the bottom box. Why is that?

A lot of it comes down to the old adage: “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Serving the loudest complainer is a practice that’s been ingrained in our culture, no matter how frustrating that may be for us quieter wheels.

Another reason why companies spend a lot of time and resources trying to make dissatisfied customers happy is based on the service recovery paradox. This is the observation that customers have a better opinion of a company that has corrected a problem than they would have if there were no issues with the product or service in the first place.

While this paradox is backed by good research, its application needs to be paired with proper cost-benefit analysis. Additionally, for some customers, no amount of “service recovery” will raise their opinion of your company. This is especially true for the rare instance in which there was no real fault in a bottom-box customer’s service to begin with.

Better Strategies for Success

For better customer satisfaction, learn how to tell the difference between rare exceptions and systemic problems. While unhappy outliers shouldn’t be completely ignored, they shouldn’t be catered to, either. Remember that the bottom box doesn’t reflect how all — or even most — of your customers feel. Radically changing a system to appease your unhappiest customers will likely cost you some currently happy ones.

To make sure bottom-box outliers don’t misinform your customer engagement methods, keep the following in mind:

  • Maintain perspective. It can be easy to give in to the knee-jerk reaction of “fixing” a problem when it’s trumpeted by an especially negative review. Instead, use concrete figures like sales data and customer retention to identify any real systemic problems that need to be addressed.
  • Use the 10 percent threshold. How do you know when those bottom-box customers are the unhappy exceptions? They should make up less than 10 percent of your total customer base. If you’re seeing serious complaints from more than 10 percent of your customers, there are weaknesses in your system that should be changed.
  • Make feedback easy to give. If customer feedback and satisfaction surveys are difficult to find and take effort to fill out, then only the most dissatisfied customers will make the effort to sound off. However, you can learn much more from neutral or only slightly dissatisfied customers (the group to which the service recovery paradox most often applies). Make soliciting these opinions a priority.

Above all, remember that objective data trumps conventional wisdom, even in contexts where soft skills are crucial. However, we at SYKES recognize that accurate data collection and analysis are tough. That’s why we’re here to provide your business with the customer engagement tools it needs to succeed.