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Disgruntled Customers Are SACRED

Business should vehemently avoid angering their customers

In the digital era of information overflow particularly after the social networking explosion, praise and criticism travel equally fast and wide. 

To survive and prosper, business has to promote their brand, establish positive images, and to feverishly guard their brand from tarnish. One incident
of angering a client could stir up a blizzard of bad publicity and damage their brand. Is this an exaggeration? Here’s one case on Wikipedia:

United Breaks Guitars is a protest song by Canadian musician Dave Carroll and his band, Sons of Maxwell. It chronicles a real-life experience of how his guitar was broken during a trip on United Airlines in 2008, and the subsequent reaction from the airline. The song became an immediate YouTube and iTunes hit upon its release in July 2009 and a public relations embarrassment for the airline.

There have been over 12 million visits on alone for this song. Dave subsequently wrote a few more sequels expanding on this episode and posted on the web which all have garnered huge followings.

Customer dissatisfaction could mean opportunity

Stories about negative customer experience abound, and some followed by happy ending. Business who has customer first mentality in their DNA tries to turn a bad customer experience into an opportunity to transform the disgruntled customer into a loyal patron as well as improving their processes and executions. Here’s an example.

Virgin Atlantic received a complaint letter from a passenger named Oliver Beale complaining about their meals. It captured the attention of the airline’s boss Richard Branson. Richard not only apologized, but also invited Oliver to their catering base to be part of their taster team to decide future food and drink. The complaint letter was named the best ever complaint letter in 2009. Virgin Atlantic not only successfully turned the disgruntled customer into a loyal patron but also took the opportunity to improve their meal quality and simultaneously won huge positive publicity.

Turning a disgruntled customer into a loyal patron and learning from it can be scripted

The skill to sense something big with profound influence maybe an innate ability of visionaries, but the ability to turning unhappy customers into loyal patrons and learning from the incidences can be induced by following appropriately scripted actions. If one dissects the Virgin Atlantic incident, or other incidents from other companies of the same nature, one would discover that the elements that constitute the foundation of their scripts are essentially the same. This script is what I called SACRED.

The SACRED process

The SACRED process defines a sequence of actions when executed successfully will turn a begrudging customer into a devoted one and will learn from the incidence. SACRED is coined from the first letter of the first word of the six actions in the script:

  • Sympathize with the customer, listen to the grievance, and be understanding.
  • Apologize to the customer for the bad experience, and particularly to the committed mistake or defect if applicable.
  • Commit to the customer that an investigation will be under way, compensation will be considered, and a date when we will update the customer.
  • Resolve the bad experience.
  • Exceed the customer’s expectation by not only resolving the problem or compensating for the expense, but also offering more than just verbal appreciation by means of discounts, gift cards, warranty extension, or anything beyond the customer’s expectation.
  • Deflect the bad experience from happening again in the future by working the solution into process or operation improvement.

Let’s review the Virgin Atlantic resolution. Virgin Atlantic sympathized with the passenger by truly listening to the complaint, it apologized with highest sincerity by delivering the apology from the top, it committed to resolve the meal quality issue, then it resolved the issue and deflected the bad experience from happening again by inviting the passenger to join their taster team to shape future food and drink, and indeed its action had exceeded Oliver’s expectation. Virgin Atlantic’s resolution is truly SACRED.

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Author: Chi-Pong Wong (All Rights Reserved by the author)

Source: Original Text (based upon first hand knowledge)
Image: © Andres Rodriguez –
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