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Worldly Wise

Earn Customers’ Long-term Loyalty Even After Complaints

By Janelle P. Barlow, Ph.D.

I recently dropped off a very complex print job for my company that took almost 15 minutes to explain to the employee working at the store. I left concerned as to whether all my instructions would be followed precisely, especially since my instructions included using the special paper I brought in for the print job. The price of this paper added dramatically to the cost of the printing, so any mistakes would have been even more expensive.

When I picked up my 1,500 printed sheets of paper, I discovered a host of problems. One of the sheets was copied three times more than requested, which meant the store ran out of my special paper. The store then substituted a much lower quality paper for the remaining copies. Also, the employee worked from copies he had made from my originals, which meant the final copies were made from a second-generation print, thus greatly reducing the overall quality of the print run. Let’s not even mention that the sheets that needed to be trimmed were cut incorrectly. In short, this was unacceptable work on every front.

I asked for a refund and replacement of my paper. The clerk I spoke with was apologetic and agreed with me. The store offered me the full refund, but I seriously questioned whether they would be able to do the job the way I wanted even if I gave them a second chance to get it right. With my refund and compensation for the paper in hand, I was ready to walk out the door and never use them again.


At that point, a shift supervisor came over to me and asked what was happening. After I explained the situation, he said he would be glad to do anything to keep my business.

He asked if they could do the job over—at no charge. The supervisor offered to buy twice the amount of special paper I brought in with me, so I would have a clean supply to use on my next print run. And he said he would personally supervise the printing to ensure it was done right. I thought, “That’s quite an offer!”

He went on to explain what the company would do to regain my trust and to earn my future business. He suggested they would send someone to my office to discuss how the company could help us with our printing needs. He also told me how to make sure complicated jobs were handled correctly in the future.

I was so impressed with his efforts to keep my business, I left the work with him and declined the offer of a refund and replacement of my special paper if the second print run was completed as I requested. It was.

Business customers are in business themselves. They understand things can go wrong. Most business customers do not want to take advantage of their suppliers. They just want what they asked for.

Effective complaint handling is not just compensating customers for immediate problems. It means satisfying the clients so they want to come back again.

Every organization makes mistakes. When they occur, companies should demonstrate to their customers that something different is going to happen, so future mistakes will not recur. Otherwise, while short-term dissatisfaction may be reduced, they may fail to acquire a customer’s longterm loyalty. That is a costly way to run any business anywhere in the world.

If companies started making offers like this printer made to me, they would certainly go bankrupt if they could not deliver on their promises. In this case, successful recovery from a major service failure is the best way to compensate for mistakes—and even gain increased customer loyalty. Asking to set up an appointment so an account executive could discuss my company’s future print needs was an excellent way for this supervisor to ensure he would get our future business.

From my side, I had some sympathy for the print shop’s dilemma. The employees obviously felt bad they had failed us. Even more impressive, however, was how the supervisor was willing to ask for another chance, rather than just refund my money. In order to gain that second chance, he had to promise something extra (even though I ultimately didn’t take him up on the offer). For that, he earned a sales appointment with my company.

Whenever a company fails in a service promise to its customers or clients, it should make it right. It can do something extra, talk about its normal quality standards, and then ask for future business.

Companies should always work at preventing the loss of customers when they fail to meet to their needs. Customer retention work is never finished, but when a company receives a complaint, it can take advantage of a door that has just opened—as long as it recognizes it’s an excellent time to ask for more business.