How Nice Customers Ruin Business and One Insanely Simple Question to Prevent It

It’s an amazing statistic from a customer satisfaction study conducted by The Strategic Planning Institute. The average business never hears from 96% of its unhappy customers. In other words, only 4% of the time people will tell you when something’s gone wrong with your product or service. Everyone else will be nice.

And that’s a problem. Because when people are nice, they suffer and endure when an issue comes up and quietly get their needs met somewhere else. So you can forget about repeat business. You can also forget about referral business. Nice customers very politely say nothing to their family and friends about your company. Repeat business and referral business, two critical elements to success, both gone. Bottom line: nice customers ruin business.

When Customers Aren’t Nice

That same study discovered that 70% of customers who register a complaint will do business again with that company if the complaint is resolved. If that complaint is resolved quickly, the number jumps to 95%. Yes, you read that right, 95%. It’s not the presence of problems that sours business, it is the lack of resolving those problems. When the problem is solved professionally, customer satisfaction soars, and, along with it, repeat and referral possibilities.

This even goes for bad reviews on the Internet. Honestly and humbly respond to your bad reviews, even if they’re not nice. Sincerely apologize and fix the problem. The watching world, again, knows that stuff happens in business, so when you own your stuff–which very few businesses actually do–they’re attracted to you.

How Do You Solicit Customer Complaints?

I must admit, this is not easy to for me to do. I like to be liked as much as the next guy. But I’ve been bitten badly by nice customers who never told me about a problem, then never used me again and never recommended me to others.

So here’s a simple habit I’ve made a part of my consulting practice. I sit down with my clients mid-project and ask, “On a scale of 1-10, how well is this engagement meeting your expectations?” And then I take a big gulp and dig down deep for details.

I’ve become convinced that a key reason people don’t freely give referrals is that there are unresolved issues in the business relationship. Even small things, like a pebble in a shoe, can be irritating over time (and easy to fix). That’s why I ask for input mid-project, so that issues can be resolved and clients can become raving fans.

And, if you’ll forgive a moment of self-help advice, when you have a life outside of your business, rich relationships with family and friends and an active faith, your identity is not defined by what you do. You can more readily accept criticism and feedback, knowing that you are fully loved and accepted in other areas of your life. Instead of making you “soft,” a rich personal life gives you courage to do what you need to do in business.

Mining for Conflict

So before asking for repeat business or for a referral, ask for complaints. Request input. Get feedback. Stir up discussion. Generate debate. Or in the words of the brilliant Patrick Lencioni: mine for conflict. The gems you’ll find possess immense value. Don’t let nice customers ruin your business.