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One of the least expensive and most effective ways to grow a business is to handle customer complaints promptly and without hassle.

That sounds like motherhood – something everybody knows and has heard a hundred times – but there are some companies and their employees who still dont get it.

Consider the following true stories:

A loyal customer purchases a high-end new car and is surprised at the number of times he has to return to the dealer to get it to perform properly. During the first few months, the cruise control, the emergency electronic braking system, a tire, a glove-compartment door and the air conditioning all fail. One problem requires four trips to convince the service department that a part is indeed defective. Another problem is not repaired after many attempts, and the service manager shows the hapless owner how to fix it himself if it ever breaks again, which it does on a regular basis. Attempts to repair the air conditioning are not satisfactory, and the customer finally realizes that he has purchased a lemon. The dealer appears sympathetic to the complaint, but his only response is a hint that a favorable trade for another new car might solve the problem. Meanwhile, one additional model year has already passed, another is fast approaching, and the customer will have to put up substantially more cash. That prospect antagonizes the customer, and he decides to trade with a competitive dealer instead. He will tell and retell everyone he meets about this poor experience.

A customer purchases directly from the manufacturer a brand of shampoo which she has been using for years. The product is defective; it turns dark brown when exposed to air, and it makes her scalp sting. The only way to communicate dissatisfaction is to send an e-mail through the companys web site. A month goes by, and the company finally replies that it will reimburse her. She forwards the required information immediately, but the company never responds.

Because of his need for reliability, a customer purchases an expensive laptop computer from the biggest name in the business. The computer is well made, but there is a minor problem. Company responses to his service enquiries are late, incomplete and arrogant. Obviously this company doesnt need his business, so he never buys that brand again.

A hotel guarantees 100% satisfaction or your money back. One of its customers, on a personal trip, checks in and is shocked to find dirty underwear on the floor of her room. After numerous telephone calls over a five-month period, a refund is finally received, but only after she faxes a copy of the bill, which the company already had.

These stories go on and on, but it is clear that retaining existing customer loyalty can be more profitable than catchy slogans, advertising or impressive physical facilities.

Managers who think their companies dont get many complaints are simply not aware of what is happening. Complaints, which are not always voiced forcefully, come in all shapes and sizes; they are an inescapable consequence of doing business. They need to be handled quickly and satisfactorily, even if a few mistakes are made in the customers favor.

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