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Threading the Needle with Unhappy Customers

Learning a customer is unhappy is always scary. But, according to Propel CEO Ross Meyercord, it could also be a golden opportunity to deepen the relationship.

From the series “The CEO Lens,” chronicling insights from Ross Meyercord’s learned experiences as CEO of Propel Software.

Unhappy customers. 

In a work context, very few things invoke more fear and dread into our hearts than those two words. It is, however, a fact of life for every company including Propel. 

Sometimes it’s self-inflicted, sometimes it’s a combination of you and the customer that caused the problem, and occasionally it has nothing to do with you and you get blamed anyway.

Here is my recipe for how to handle each of these three scenarios. Spoiler alert: it’s all one recipe (with maybe some slight seasoning changes). 

Don't Play the Blame Game

At the end of the day, when a customer is upset they’ll let you know about it. The very last thing the customer wants to hear is a legalistic view of what percent culpability you have versus what percent they have in the cause of the issue. 

What they do want to know is they have been heard, and as a good partner you will work with them to get them better.

Let me give you a case in point. 

I recently joined a call with members of Propel’s Customer Success team and a customer who was experiencing issues. We learned the vast majority of the issues were with another third-party package, but with which Propel was intertwined. 

The customer CEO, summarizing the issues that needed to be addressed, said something along the lines of “Well I guess you need to huddle and decide if this is something you can help us with.” 

We spent some time discussing a couple moderately difficult business issues they were facing. He was expecting we would have to study this deeply and then come back with a “yes” or “no” whether we could help. 

My response to him was, “While there are issues to be root-caused and decisions to be made, Propel is committed to helping your company get better.” 

I don’t make statements like this lightly. The CEO was visibly relieved, at that moment he knew Propel was a partner committed to their success. 

Though we haven’t determined the fix yet, and we don’t know how much it will cost or if they will pay us for it, I do know offering to step up and help was the right thing to do.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Long Route

This customer was sincere and fair—and willing to meet us partway. In other words, this was a customer we can work with today and for the long haul.

I believe being deeply committed to customer success is a long game. Sometimes it may “cost” you in the short term, but a successful customer that deeply trusts your company will be the gift that gives for years to come.

Not only do you have a good chance of keeping that customer for life, but that customer will also be a reference for you and tell other prospects how amazing you are. A customer like this can easily help you land 3-5 more customers in the future.

So the ultimate moral of the story is when it comes to customer challenges and customer successes, don’t play the blame game. Focus first on the customer’s needs. 

Lead with Value

Though your company may strive to charge a fair price for the value you provide, sometimes you need to “do the right thing” and help a customer, even if it costs you in the short term. 

Long-term focus—and value—is how to build a sustainable business that wins in the long term.

Check out the previous installment of The CEO Lens: “How to Embrace Performance Evaluations."

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Ross Meyercord
CEO, Propel

Ross Meyercord is CEO of Propel Software, a SaaS provider dedicated to helping high tech, medtech and consumer goods companies build compelling and profitable products. Throughout his 30+ year career, Meyercord has worked in a variety of capacities, including directly with manufacturers to implement PLM and QMS solutions, managed global technology organizations, and has been instrumental in guiding customer-facing teams to increase customer success and drive corporate growth.

Fun Fact: When not working or with family, you will likely find Ross on the tennis courts.

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Ross Meyercord