The Risk of Negative Customer Experiences
You’ve probably heard the claim that when customers have positive experiences, they tell three other people—and when they have negative experiences, they tell eleven others. Or maybe you heard it as twice as many venting about bad experiences as good. Or seventeen and twenty-four, positive to negative.
The reality is that most of these numbers aren’t the result of research, but rather reports from people who are asked how many people they’ve told about a good or bad experience as a customer (or how many they would tell if it happens in the future).
But if the numbers vary, it doesn’t matter; the larger point is made: If you deliver services, negative customer experiences can damage or even destroy your reputation. In this era of microcomplaints, no flaw, delay, or mistake seems too small to complain about. With social media and review sites devoted to (and many more tolerant of) venting and grousing, a sterling reputation can go south in an Internet instant.
Consider, in addition, the way people describe negative experiences. When they relate a situation that infuriated them, they tend to embellish. They omit parts of the experience that would undercut their story and add details that support it. They craft the description to generate “oh, no”s from their audience. As bad as the experience was, this fictionalizing makes it sound even worse.
Furthermore, the amount and intensity of embellishment often grows with each retelling. I’ve noticed this pattern in observing a few friends relate a negative experience to each of several people. Each repetition of the story became more dramatic and more negative. It’s interesting to watch people put on a performance, complete with a pained demeanor and a “you’ll never believe this” tone of voice. When the circumstances are striking enough, listeners then tell these tales to their own friends and colleagues, and in doing so, they add their own tweaks and negative twists.
The good news is that positive experiences can also lead customers to put on a performance and tell numerous others. Therefore, if you deliver services to customers, strive to create compellingly positive experiences. And when bad stuff happens, the challenge—and the opportunity—is to turn it into a positive outcome.
As much as people get a charge out of relating negative experiences, they also love describing negative experiences that have been transformed into happy endings. And when that happens, exaggerating, dramatizing, and performing turn into a benefit.