When Customers Stop Complaining, You’d Better Start Worrying.

dan-2A few years ago, I worked with a client that won and then lost thirty customers all in the span of ten months. The deal was they had bought the customer base of a company that as going out of business. They also hired a few key people from that company to help with the transition of bringing that customer base into their facility. The good news was that they successfully moved almost all the key customers into the company. The bad news is that a few months later they were all gone. They had lost all the customers they had attained.

“Why did this happen?’ I can hear you asking, simple, they paid no attention to the silence. The fact is their delivery performance had always been deplorable. Their on-time delivery performance was less than eighty three percent (which by the way is the industry average). But that’s not the worst part of this story, the worst part is that they didn’t care that their performance was so poor. When we tried to tell them, they were going to lose customers if they didn’t start delivering on time, they scoffed and said they’d had customers for years and those customers never complained about it. Which, was actually true, because for whatever reason those customers stayed with them until they couldn’t take it anymore, and since their current overall sales number was less than half of what it had once been, I would guess that the customers did care. They had just given up complaining to them years before and now they were slowly one by one leaving them.

As for the thirty new customers, they had options. Those first orders from them, as are all first orders, were audition orders to see how they would perform, and alas they performed miserably and lost those customers rather quickly because those customers, were not invested enough, did not care enough to complain.

Which is the point of this column. When customers stop complaining it can only mean one of two things. The first being that your company is now performing better, and they have nothing more to complain about; and the second being that your service is not improving, they are tired of putting up with your poor service, and they are slowing moving away. In short, they don’t even care enough to complain. Yikes!

They key here, is to figure out which is which. But if your performance has not improved it’s a pretty good indicator that they are not bothering to complain any longer and are simply voting with their feet.

Here are a few indicators to help you realize when this is happening:

  • Your sales person is having a difficult time getting appointments with their buyers. They always seem to be too busy to talk no matter how much she tries to get in through to them they don’t pick up the phone or return her calls and emails.
  • The number of orders they place is slowly going down. Not significantly at first because it takes time to replace a vendor with legacy parts, but your customer is slowly moving part numbers away from you.
  • When they do finally talk with your people, there is never talk about the future. They just make small talk about the weather of sports or whatever, but never about where their company is going. That’s a sure sign that they don’t plan to have a future with you.
  • You have not seen any new part numbers or projects in months. I can assure you that they have new projects and part numbers, but once again you are not being considered a part of their future.
  • You are not invited to vendor conferences. This is an obvious one. Many of the better companies hold vendor conferences bringing in all their preferred vendors to discuss where they are today and where they will be in the future. But once again they will only invite those vendors who will be part of their future. And, your company not being invited to those vendor days is a pretty good indicator that you are on your way out.

If your company is experiencing any of these subtle clues. Or if you have stopped hearing complaints from your customers, then you’d better start worrying because in this case, no news is not good news and silence is definitely not golden, so you’d better start hearing the silence and put together an all hands on deck emergency plan to start winning those customers back, before it’s too late. It’s only common sense.

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