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Every time you handle a customer concern, you should know that many of your customers are harboring negative feelings—but not saying a word.

In fact, data from the White House Office of Consumer Affairs validated that there are 26 unhappy customers for each one who registers a formal concern. That means you likely hear from less than 5% of your dissatisfied customers.

Your brand has a significant amount of hidden negative sentiment that needs your attention. If you don’t focus on your the most volatile and vulnerable segment of your customer base—your slightly to moderately dissatisfied customers—the consequences can cause far-reaching damage.

This group of customers can share negative feelings via word-of-mouth and dissuade others from trying out your products or services. Or, one vocal complainer can incite an online groundswell of negative feedback and motivate other unhappy customers to lend their voices.

All it takes is one poor customer experience to put your brand at risk for large-scale defections and a loss of public reputation. As today’s brands angle to provide better customer experiences, focusing on latent customer dissatisfaction is a clear imperative.

Here are four things you need to know to address hidden negative sentiment:

1. Understand that Traditional Feedback Channels May Not Identify All Dissatisfied Customers

How do you know when a customer is unhappy? One obvious way is when a customer posts a concern on a social network or logs an online review. You can also glean insights from real-time analysis of post-interaction surveys.

But all of those scenarios fit into the small minority of complaints you do hear about.

Ironically, research suggests that many latently dissatisfied customers indicate that they are at least somewhat satisfied on quantitative customer surveys. That implies that closed-ended survey formats—with their yes/no and multiple choice response sets—may not tell you all you need to know.

2. Listen to What Your Customers Do Say

A good way to detect more dissatisfied customers is to include open-ended survey questions. Specifically, capturing customer spoken verbatims gives you potential for much deeper insight into perceptions and feelings about your brand.

Many companies are starting to realize the potential power of open-ended survey questions. In a recent study, the Temkin Group determined that brands will be ceasing their over-reliance on multiple choice survey questions and increasing collection of customer verbatims over the next three years..

Of course, collecting data is just a first step. Only analysis can reveal all-important customer insights. And only human sentiment analysis can assess the many nuances of of human communication.

Any customer can leave feedback on an experience or suggestion for improvement that seems positive on the surface. However, listening to their tone, voice volume, and other subtleties can let you know that a customer who speaks good words truly falls into the latent dissatisfaction category.

3. Know the Risks of Customer Defections

Customer sentiment insights can help you clarify which latently dissatisfied customers are at the greatest risk of defection. You can combine sentiment analysis with other customer data—such as spending trends, and engagement metrics—to define characteristics of likely to defect customers.

Using this data, you can construct a unique dissatisfaction-to-defection model for your brand. You can then define customized treatment and resolution strategies for varied customer segments. This approach can help you prioritize actions to mitigate risks of customer churn.

4. Use Customer Insights to Refine Operations and Strategies

Once you can identify latent negative sentiment, you must make good use of this high-value information. You may need to reach out to individual customers with reassuring messages, promotions, and other engagement opportunities to bolster their loyalty.

Alternatively, you may discern larger-scale trends that require your attention. Maybe you’ll find that specific product messages are not aligned with actual customer purchase and use experiences. Maybe you’ll find certain teams or regions are not delivering the best quality customer experiences. You can apply what you learn from your sentiment analysis to define opportunities for improvement or target training and coaching to your front-line teams.

Advancing Your Customer Dissatisfaction Management Practices

2015 promises to be a big year for companies who want to be leaders in the era of the empowered customer. Most brands know they need to deliver better customer experiences or risk losing customers to competitors.

However, you need to take fast action to move beyond generic data collection techniques. You must adopt advanced analytical approaches to identify and manage dissatisfied customers—especially the ones below the radar.

The potential payoff is huge. Organizations who effectively handle customer concerns are more likely to retain and inspire goodwill those customers. And happy customers are always the best advocates for your brand.

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Engage with Us

Have insights to share on this topic? We would love to hear from you. Feel free to answer one of our questions or offer your own ideas:

  • Is your brand embracing the trend towards open-ended survey questions?
  • What do you do with the freeform comments and customer verbatims you do collect?
  • How do you apply customer learnings to refine front-line contact approaches?

We look forward to your input.