The Challenge of Happy Customers: Paul Walker of GCI Group writes about how major brands don’t know what to do with happy customers

Over the past year, GCI Digital Media has worked with Dell, Nike, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Whole Foods and other leading brands to implement programs, often digital, to generate positive word of mouth while decreasing the negative.

In the course of our work we've come across a type of customer that is far too often taken for granted, ignored or worse: The Happy Customer©. These are the customers that absolutely love a brand's product or services so much so that they are willing to take the time to tell the brand via e-mail, phone, "snail mail" or blog.

Unfortunately, their "thank you's" are more often than not... for naught.

OUR HYPOTHESIS: Major brands don't know what to do with happy customers. They make it hard for customers to say thanks and way too often companies don't celebrate and embrace customers' positive gestures. And, if they can't do that how can they motivate them to tell their family, friends and peers how happy they are with the brands' products and services?

Take the case of one Mr. Burger. He bought a new Dell 19-inch flat-panel screen that he loved so much, he sent a thank you note via Dell's website which went something like this: "No problem! I just wanted to tell you that I just received the monitor... and it's awesome... I can already tell that it's the best $500 I've spent in a long time. Thanks!" A few days later Dell responded: "Dear Mr. Burger: Thank you for contacting us about your issue... I sense you are not getting optimal performance from your system... I'm committed to resolve this issue with the monitor." Mr. Burger may still love his monitor, but now he has some questions about the company, the brand. He also shared his experience with David Pogue at The New York Times who featured Mr. Burger's story in his weekly column.

Think about it... there's no "press 2 to report a great experience with our products and services" command on brands phone systems... or imagine this: a "thank you button" on their home pages so customers can escalate their amazing experiences. There's no internal RSS feed for all employees around the world so they can enjoy a constant flow of "way to go's" from happy customers. And, most brands just aren't doing a lot to motivate and enable their vocal happy customers to tell their peers.

This lack of and/or poor response is a sad state of affairs for major brands. It is, however, partially explainable:

We all want to take care of dissatisfied customers FAST because we know they are going to tell a bunch of people -- and that is going to cost brands customers, prospects and sales.

In fact, the Wharton Retail Customer Dissatisfaction Study 2006 showed that only 6 percent of shoppers who experienced a problem with a retailer contacted the company, but 31 percent went on to tell friends, family or colleagues what happened. Overall, if 100 people have a bad experience, a retailer stands to lose between 32 and 36 current or potential customers, according to the study.

So, of course, it is vital that brands' commitments to resolving the issues of dissatisfied customers continue. But this objective is so consuming that brands often pursue it while forgetting - or even ignoring - happy customers. More specifically, their most vocal happy customers. That's a problem brands should really solve for a number of reasons.

To determine just how widespread this problem is, we recently implemented a "secret shopper" experiment with a twist - our researchers said "thank you" to 100 major, consumer brands - the top 50 Fortune 500 and the top 50 Inc. 500 - via e-mail, phone and snail mail (see appendix: "The Sample and Methodology"). We also monitored the blogosphere, forums and social networks to see if we could find any evidence of the 100 companies proactively saying "thank you" to their customers.

Then we sat back and recorded what happened. For each channel, a company was scored on a 0 - 10 scale - 40 was the maximum possible score for a campaign.

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This article originally appeared in volume 14 of WPP's Atticus Journal.

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