Conflict is good for business!

Companies cannot provide perfect customer experiences. However, they can take advantage of bad situations, by facing the conflict, listening to the customer, understanding his or her needs, and making decisions accordingly. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many conflicts you have (or don’t have) with the customer. What really matters is how your company deals with them.


This post is a response to “Experience Story: I can’t believe they listened to my feedback! …(eventually)” by Syed Hassan.

Many companies try their best to prevent conflicts with their clients and correct the problems that cause them. However, these efforts prove to be futile in the long run, because it is next to impossible to maintain a perfect record of flawless interactions with customers. The good news is that conflicts with customers—dissatisfaction, unmet expectations, mistreatment and service mistakes—can actually be good for business!

In his Customer Experience blog, Syed Hassan posted the story of a man who received a stuffed animal from his telecommunications provider, as a reward for his 5-year long loyalty [1]. Understandably, this person was outraged; he would have preferred to receive nothing instead of such insulting token of gratitude. Fortunately for the company, the marketing “strategists” also included an invitation to provide feedback through an online survey, which the man immediately filled out. Several months later, this person received a new package with a new “thank you” note and a headset for his phone (something he could actually use). As a result, this customer felt he was important for the company, and the disgruntling incident became such a positive experience that he wanted to tell all his friends about it. “Free marketing!” he added.

I totally agree with Syed that this story is a perfect example of how useful it is to listen to the voice of the customer. At the same time, I would like to add that the anecdote also shows that conflicts with clients are not necessarily bad for business. Rather, they are excellent opportunities to enhance their experience and gain their loyalty. It is up to the company to make something good of it: if they are willing to face the conflict and solve the problem, they can turn a negative situation into a favourable one.

Moreover, research on decision making demonstrates that people prefer situations to start badly and improve over time, rather then begin well but end badly [2]. Indeed, as a customer, I appreciate more those situations that started with a problem and ended with and excellent solution on the part of the company. I come out of those incidents respecting more the retail store or bank, and regarding their staff as competent. On top of that, my trust in the company increases because they have demonstrated that they can and will live up to their promise.

In summary, companies cannot provide perfect customer experiences. However, they can take advantage of bad situations, by facing the conflict, listening to the customer, understanding his or her needs, and making decisions accordingly. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many conflicts you have (or don’t have) with the customer; what really matters is  how your company deals with them.

References

[1] Hassan, S. (2008). Experience Story: I can’t believe they listened to my feedback! …(eventually). In http://www.syedhasan.com. [click here]

[2] Loewenstein, G. & Prelec, D. (2000). Preferences for sequences of outcomes. In Kahneman, D. & Tversky, A. (Eds.). Choices, Values, and Frames, pp. 565-577, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

3 thoughts on “Conflict is good for business!”

  1. There will always be issues that arise in the customer service area for businesses. Yes, a true measure of good — if not great — customer service (a component of customer experience) is not only in delivering the products and services that meet customer needs (and wants); it’s also in how the company addresses and handles misunderstandings and missteps. From the customer’s perspective, s/he can see whether the company will step up to the proverbial plate and make good on the misstep (i.e. relationship management).

    That said, I agree that *how* a company deals with a customer issue is very important to maintaining good customer service (plus loyalty). However, if the number of customer issues is high — or, chronic — it is symptomatic of a larger problem within the company. It could be that the company needs to hire a more customer-oriented service staff, train them on how to categorize and address various types of issues, and/or put an escalation process in place. It may be the case that a given company requires a systematic approach (software + service) to monitoring various customer touchpoints.

    Cindy

  2. Thanks Cindy for bringing up such an important point!
    I certainly don’t want to suggest that companies should stop trying to improve customer service. Indeed, becoming good at solving conflicts also consists in finding definite solutions to customer issues; specially, those conflicts that arise week after week, like an endless litany. If dealt appropriately, conflicts can be opportunities to understand better the customer’s needs and aspirations or to identify underlying causes of problems. However, this is just one way to tackle customer service improvement.

    As it happens, I commented on this very topic last week on http://www.syedhasan.com
    In essence, I mentioned an alternative way to improve quality of customer experience, by identifying and promoting positive behaviours, rather than pinpointing and correcting deficiencies.

    Tak

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