You’ve probably heard by now about the woman who walked into an Apple (News - Alert) store and freaked out when they didn’t help her as she expected. It’s gone viral. Check out TMCnet’s story, and the video, here, and my posting on customer rage here.
While this nice-looking lady’s behavior is off the charts bad, the practice of letting a business know when you’re unhappy is not bad at all. In fact, it can be a very good thing, because it can result in positive near- and long-term results for both customer and company.
That’s what Claes Fornell, creator of the American Customer Satisfaction Index, tells TMCnet.
There’s more good news when it comes to customer complaints: Companies as a group continue to get better at both responding to customer complaints and working to eliminate them from happening in the first place.
Customer touchpoints like “the call center should have enough instructions to deal with the complaining customer in a smart economic way, which is of course not to question the validity of the complaint so much, but to essentially give the complainant what they want for the most part even if the real complaint might be questionable,” he says. “It’s usually the smart, economic thing to do, and I think most companies try to do that even though it is really hard.”
The way to get high satisfaction and fewer complaints is to deliver a good product and good service, of course. But the most important factor is ensuring the product really fits the needs and wants of the buyer, Fornell explains.
“If it doesn’t, well then you have problems to begin with,” he says. “As a seller, it’s very difficult. You tend to exaggerate the benefits of a product. You want to make that sale even if you know this is not really what the customer should have, but you try to sell it anyway. Then you pay the price later of not only having a dissatisfied customer that will not come back to you, but they spread the news as well. It’s better in the long run to be very selective in terms of targeting and maybe even saying no to customers who may want to buy your products if you don’t think they’re going to be happy with them.”
The more simple a product or service is, the higher the customer satisfaction around it tends to be, he says, noting it’s clear how to work and enjoy a can a soda, but more difficult to use a computer. However, despite the complexity, Fornell says the PC industry is the most improved vertical in terms of customer satisfaction.
“Apple led the way for a long time with its very high satisfaction, but also based on design and novelty that’s where we’ve probably seen the most improvement over the years,” he says.
But Apple’s customer satisfaction is now slipping.
“It started slipping in late summer or early fall, but not by a whole lot,” Fornell says. “For Apple the high satisfaction they’ve had has been terrific in terms of helping them. I think they’ve broken just about every sales record there is in this category. But they’re having some difficulties now, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out. But I think when they overtook the industry 7-8-9 years now in customer satisfaction, it’s been straight up since last fall. But they’re still by far in the lead both when it comes to smartphones and the iPad and the laptop products. I think they have stalled. Who knows what the leadership change at the company has really meant. If you look at them they are seemingly at least somewhat less innovative than they were are few years ago.”
While the person complaining in video mentioned above was a woman in the U.S., Fornell says that women as a group tend to complain less and be more satisfied consumers than are men.
“There is an economic explanation for that, I’m not sure it’s right, but the economic explanation would be that women tend to spend more time shopping, think more about the process and are better shoppers,” he says. “Therefore, they also buy products that are more suited to whatever purpose they use them for, and they come out of the whole thing more satisfied and with fewer complaints.”
There are also geographic and age-related differences in terms of customer satisfaction. For example, Swedes are the biggest complainers, according to Fornell, and people on the coasts of the U.S. complain more than the rest of us.
“Older people tend to complain less across the board, but they’re also more satisfied,” he says. “I think it’s the same thing, maybe the older people have been around more, they know themselves better, and their purchase behavior is more stable; therefore they come out of the experience better. Maybe they take fewer risks as well.”
In addition to being the founder of the ACSI, Fornell is the chairman and founder of CFI Group, an international provider of customer satisfaction measurement technology services; ForeSee Results Inc., a customer experience analytics firm; and CSat Fund, a hedge fund that applies customer satisfaction data to stock portfolios. He has authored the book The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference. And he’s the subject of the July/August cover story of CUSTOMER magazine.