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Not all customer comments are complaints. Somewhere between the positive and negative customer comments received every day by your company there is a vein of extremely useful information which needs to be recognized and profitably mined.

If customers are treated with respect when they make the effort to contact you, they may provide valuable input. If they are not, your company will suffer a loss, even though that loss cannot be easily identified or quantified.

Some complaints are not what they appear to be. They may be customers asking you to help them find a good reason to stay. They may want to continue to do business with you but need a small change in the way you operate. Often they can be accommodated with a sympathetic ear and minimum amount of effort – if you are organized to do so.

Customers need to feel that their comments are being heard, and that they are just as important to you as you are to them. They want to be on board and kept up to date. They want to understand any circumstances which might influence their future relationship.

They want to be able to make suggestions without being labeled a complainer. They may be upset, they may be calm, they may act like they dont really care, but they all need a contact who tries to understand what they are saying. And they get angry when they cant easily find someone to listen.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has observed that, Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. The last thing you want to do is let customers leave you without having given them an opportunity to voice their concerns. Valuable information might be lost which could be helpful to the organization.

An untenable situation was expressed by John M. Herbert as Herberts First and Only Law of Complaints in the San Francisco Chronicle: Dont complain. The people who will listen cant do anything about it, while the people who can do something about it wont listen. We can do better than that.

A few suggestions:

1. Get rid of complaint or technical support departments primarily designed to limit or block potential claims. Customers recognize those groups for what they are.

2. Establish a well-publicized, easily accessed central point for customer comments, staffed by employees with positive, can-do attitudes. Make sure that contact links, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses are prominently displayed on the company Internet site.

3. Grant the new Cus tomer Comment Center the authority to immediately settle most complaints or, at the very least, provide a date when a company response will be received.

4. Inform the organization that every employee, at all levels, has the obligation to pass on significant customer comments, especially if customers are reluctant or unwilling to do so themselves.

5. Analyze the information gained. Allow the new group to penetrate corporate barriers, ensuring that the appropriate executives learn of important customer comments and trends.

By listening carefully – and treating people as you yourself would like to be treated – customer retention rates will increase and useful information will be mined which might otherwise be lost. Thats an admirable way to run any business.

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