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Customer sentiment: How to deal with angry customers

“To listen closely and reply well is the highest perfection we are able to attain in the art of conversation.”
~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Customer serviceEvery business wants to know the minds of their customers. But when your customers speak their minds, do you know how to listen?  There are several layers of listening to your client feedback.  You can focus on just what’s being said or you can pay attention to the sentiment of what’s being said – the emotions, the undisclosed assumptions, the unvoiced desires.  The latter is more difficult to do, but careful tuning into customer sentiment can be the key to improving customer service.

A recent study on customer conflict, for example, revealed two fundamental behavior patterns of angry customers.  Some anger is transactional, or task-based, in nature.  For instance, you go to a grocery store, buy a bag of potatoes, bring it home, and open it only to discover that several potatoes are rotten. You may get angry, but it’s unlikely that you treat this incident as a personal affront.  If you go back, complain and get a new bag of good potatoes, you will probably be quite satisfied with the resolution of your complaint.  The study confirmed that transactional anger can be diminished by compensating the customer for the poor service.

There is, however, another anger pattern among customers.  That’s when they take the situation personally.  The study revealed that these angry customers often thought that they had been misled by the company’s marketing messages and felt betrayed.  Such consumers interviewed in the study used highly emotive language to describe the service provider, including ‘hatred’ and ‘vengeance’.  In such situations, it’s not enough for the customer service to compensate the customer for the bad experience.  In fact, offering to exchange the defective product or refund the money may lead to more angry outbursts.  Instead, customers want an acceptance of responsibility and a personal apology.  Perhaps, they want their customer representatives feel their frustration, connect to the source of their pain, and empathize with them.

This makes sense from the brain’s perspective because the second pattern likely triggers the brain’s preference for fairness. Fair treatment is a reward to the brain that activates dopamine cells while unfair treatment is perceived as a threat and processed in the anterior insula, the part of the brain also associated with the feeling of contempt [PDF] The perception of unfairness can lead to emotional and sometimes even violent outbursts.

According to Golnaz Tabibnia, an Assistant Professor in Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Melon University, fairness may be even more important to us than money as the ultimatum game experiments demonstrate.  In the ultimatum game experiments, two people need to split a pot of money.  One person makes an offer, and the other person needs to decide whether to accept or reject it.  If the offer is rejected, nobody gets any money.  It turns out that people are willing to sacrifice their personal gain if they think that the offer unfairly benefits the other person.  When the offer is fair, the reward system in the brain becomes more active than when it’s unfair. Other studies show that people report higher levels of trust and cooperation when they experience fair exchanges.  Interestingly, the sense of fairness increases the levels of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, making people more open and willing to connect with others.

In summary, businesses that want to nurture customer loyalty should pay attention to the perceptions of fairness when listening to customer sentiment and analyzing conversation patterns.  Strong emotive language may indicate that customers take the conflict personally as a breach of trust and seek justice and empathy, rather than refunds and compensation.

By | 2010-10-14T20:26:24+00:00 October 14th, 2010|Communication, Conflict Management, Perception|0 Comments

Top Reasons for Facebook Unfriending

What happens when Facebook friendships end?  This question prompted Christopher Sibona, a PhD student in the Computer Science and Information Systems program at the University of Colorado Denver Business School, to do a study on the Facebook unfriending practices.  ScienceDaily reports:

After surveying more than 1,500 Facebook users on Twitter, Sibona found the number-one reason for unfriending is frequent, unimportant posts.

“The 100th post about your favorite band is no longer interesting,” he said.

The second reason was posting about polarizing topics like religion and politics.

“They say not to talk about religion or politics at office parties and the same thing is true online,” he said.

Inappropriate posts, such as crude or racist comments, were the third reason for being unfriended.

The study showed 57 percent of those surveyed unfriended for online reasons, while 26.9 percent did so for offline behavior.

Sibona also cited a 2010 survey showing that 54.6 percent of recruiters used the site to find or investigate job candidates, suggesting that the same reasons may turn the recruiters away.

By | 2010-10-06T15:00:49+00:00 October 6th, 2010|Communication|0 Comments

On cyberbullying and online disinhibition

The Internet is a bunch of interconnected computer networks, senseless and indifferent to the types of messages they transmit.  It is capable of spreading love as quickly as it spreads hate.  It doesn’t blame and it doesn’t absolve.  It provides, however, fruitful ground for social experimentation, often fueled by our hard-wired desire for status, social approval and authority.  The recent tragic death of 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi shows the dark side of such social experimentation.

We might as well have a sign pop up on our screens every time we load a browser, “Leave your inhibitions at the click of a mouse.”  Psyhologists have a name for it – the “online disinhibition effect.”  In its negative expression, it may go as follows:

“I feel important when many eyes follow, read, and watch.  If I can get your attention, it must mean, I am worthy of your attention, so you will acknowledge me.  I prefer to be invisible, though, because that way, if things go wrong, I won’t lose my face…because you won’t see my face.  Every act needs an audience, and I know you are there somewhere.  I can’t see your reactions, but I can conjure them up in my mind.  That makes me bold and even reckless, and I like it. Nobody would describe me as bold or reckless in my real life.  What’s real, anyways?  I’ll role-play a little.  I’ll be a villain.  Villains are powerful, and I want power.  I want to dominate and control.  I hope you like my show, and if you don’t, chances are I will never know because you won’t have the time or feel the need to tell me.  You may say, “That’s just awful,” or “I am confused,” or “Somebody must have already reported this stuff,” and click away.  I can handle that.  Now, I just need a victim because “How can I be a villain without a victim?”  All of cyberspace is a stage, after all.  Why should I feel responsible for what happens online?  Watch my avatar in action.”

Fortunately, the “disinhibition effect” is no defense to malice, hate, or stupidity online.  We, human beings, are given a wonderful gift of awareness and consciousness that we might as well use to rewrite the discourse above and make social networking a safer and more empowering experience for all of us.  The safety of our social networks is everybody’s responsibility.  Perhaps, a better approach would be…

“I feel my connection to the larger world out there when many eyes follow, read and watch.  I will work hard to share my best with you because your attention is a precious gift that I honor and will never take lightly.  Although you cannot see me right now, you will know my name and I will carry responsibility for everything and anything that I choose to share with you.  I promise to treat you with integrity and respect that you deserve.  I speak to all as I would speak to every single one of you face-to-face.  It is my choice to use the Internet to nurture relationships and collaboration.  I will take time to state my intentions clearly, to communicate in a sensitive and respectful way and to avoid unnecessary conflict and hurt feelings.  I will speak my mind and encourage you to do the same. I will listen and acknowledge your opinions even if I may disagree with you.  I will be fair.  I will intervene when I see an injustice.  Perhaps, together we can make this social network a welcoming place.”

How can we make our social networks safer and better for everybody?

P.S.  For a positive example of what social networks can do to counteract bullying,  visit the It Gets Better project on YouTube, created to show the LGBT teen victims of bullying that “it gets better” through personal stories.

By | 2010-10-04T14:34:30+00:00 October 4th, 2010|Change, Communication|0 Comments