Any discussion about customer satisfaction needs to start by training a microscope on dissatisfied customers. Only a fraction of the dissatisfied customers will ever mention it to your company. The vast majority will just buy something else. It’s too much trouble for most customers to call you up and tell you about any problem. But they will tell their friends and neighbors. So the best way to achieve customer satisfaction is to start taking every complaint doubly serious.

Here are several ways you can mine the hidden wealth of your dissatisfied customers to increase customer satisfaction:

  1. Don’t just refund their money. Often refunding money is inextricably tied to the customer service department. Most companies believe that refunds are a form of complaint resolution. They’re not. You won’t achieve customer satisfaction from a dissatisfied customer simply by refunding their money. They’ll just use that money to buy another brand, and you’ll lose the customer. Only one unhappy customer in a hundred takes the trouble to call a company and express their dissatisfaction. If they took the time to call you, they will tell their friends, too. To create customer satisfaction, you need to see this as an opportunity. Apologize for the problem, then send them more product. Go overboard. Your goal is to transform an unsatisfied customer into an apostle for your company. Now they will be telling their friends, “I had a problem and the company not only fixed it but did more.”
  1. Use their feedback. No matter where it comes from, turn around and share customer feedback with the customer service, marketing, product development, design, packaging, and sales departments. Make sure that every department in your company is constantly in the loop regarding the actual comments of real people – that is, customers who have used the product and responded. It is unlikely you will get the real skinny from focus groups, but the comments of people who call your 800 number, or go on your website and leave a comment –that’s pure gold.
  1. Remain relevant. Customer satisfaction is only as good as the product is still relevant and performs to their expectations. That’s not as easy as it may sound. Times and customers change. One way to find out if your products are still relevant is to solicit feedback from customers who call in. When you have them on the phone, ask them what improvements they would like to see, and what problems they have getting the products. Then get their contact information and send them a T-shirt or some other branding item to remind them of the call. Be pro-active. Without customer satisfaction and feedback, your product will lose touch with its end-user.

Companies who appreciate the goldmine represented by their dissatisfied customers have a better chance of achieving customer satisfaction. Customers don’t shop around when they’re satisfied with your product or when your company stands behind the product. In my experience, much can be achieved by focusing on your dissatisfied customers.

Of course, there’s much more that could be said on this subject. What’s been your experience? Michael Houlihan, co-founder of Barefoot Wine, the largest selling wine brand in the nation, invites you to join the discussion on Customer Satisfaction with your comments, thoughts, and opinions below.