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When I ran companies my policy was the phone would always be answered by a person. If a caller was angry or upset – in any way – all employees were instructed to say, “The CEO of our company wishes to speak with anyone who calls and is upset about our products, our services, or with anything about our company. Could I transfer you to him now?”
As you can guess, most callers said, “You’re darned right you can transfer me to the CEO. He needs to deal with this problem now!”
I took those calls. Every single one – even if the call interrupted meetings. (We never interrupted client meetings, though; if I was already with a customer I returned the call as soon as possible.) I took those calls for years, and even some many were decidedly uncomfortable, what often surprised me was how much I could learn by listening to angry customers. Over time I identified more employee problems as a result of those calls than I did by any other means.
In short, our customers not only kept us in business – they also identified issues for me.
Here’s an example. An angry customer is on the phone with a support person. (Or, really, with any company employee; every employee who works for you is ultimately paid to help customers and make them happy.) The customer said, “I spent a lot of money on this product… and it was delivered with a part missing. I need that resolved immediately!”
The employee said, “I understand the problem… but it will take a fair amount of time to resolve. It’s now 4:45 and I get off at 5:00. It will take more than fifteen minutes to resolve this issue; I think it’s best if you called us back tomorrow.”
(I’m not making this up.)
The customer became angrier. (Big surprise.) Another employee overheard the call, stepped in, and had the call transferred to me. I apologized on behalf of the company, determined the problem, brought in a more conscientious employee to help… together we made sure the missing part shipped overnight.
Fortunately for me, but perhaps unfortunately for the original employee, they didn’t have to worry about getting off at 5:00, much less taking the call the next day. I fired him. Treat a customer that way once and you’ll surely do it again. I considered myself lucky to learn about this problem employee when I did.
At least 75% of the time simply by taking angry calls I would learn about employees who were inconsiderate to customers or vendors. I couldn’t be everywhere. I couldn’t see everything. But dealing with angry customers increased my reach and vision dramatically.