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Complaints As a Source of Leads

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Complaints As a Source of LeadsAsking what could have gone better can lead to more business


July 29, 2004

I have always been someone who advises sales people to think outside the box. Everyone says that, but what does “outside the box” mean? For one thing, it means taking what a typical trainer teaches you and throwing it out. For example, I believe that the typical mortgage originator does not get enough complaints. If they received more complaints they would increase their referral business.How can such a contradictory statement be valid? It is not that we are doing such a great job, though many originators are. The lack of complaints is completely due to the fact that we don’t ask how we do. I encourage my students to call everyone after closing and find out how well we did — as well as taking another opportunity to thank the customer and see if they need any more help. This call (and the sales process) is all about the customer. It is not a call to ask about referrals.

Of course, when you call every customer and ask them for honest feedback as to how the process went, you are much more likely to uncover situations in which the customer is unhappy. Anyone who is in sales and delivers service has had experiences that have caused their customers to be unhappy. It is not pleasant facing this situation. Nothing is more unsettling than an unhappy customer. Well, this statement is not entirely true. Nothing is more unsettling than an unhappy customer with whom we have expended major resources and now expect to get no additional business in return.

Nothing is more unsettling and nothing is more untrue. It is the customer who is unhappy who provides the perfect opportunity for more business. And with rates up in 2004, there is no way we want to miss any opportunities.

How in the world can an unhappy customer be a source for new business? It is the customer who makes the most noise who cares the most about their relationship with you. In other words, the customers who walk away from the table unhappy but stay silent about their feelings are not likely to care about their long-term relationship with you as their service provider. Let me give you an example; how many times has the waitress of a restaurant come over to you and asked how is everything? You said fine even though the food was not perfect — because you did not want to cause a disruption. You just did not care to expend the energy to help them improve.

Can it be that you have missed a sales opportunity every time a customer was very unhappy with your service? When things get rough, our initial reaction is to run and hide. Instead we need to meet the customer with a heightened sense of responsibility.

Here are a few pointers.

  • Listen, listen and listen. A customer who is unhappy does not want to hear your opinion about why certain things turned out the way they did. They just want to be heard. Stop, take a deep breath and listen.

  • React calmly. If you get excited and shoot back with accusations as to how the customer contributed to the situation (you didn’t get me…) or how someone else in the company let you down, you will make the customer even more excited and unhappy.

  • Show Empathy. Tell the customer you understand their feelings and that you are just as disappointed as them. You must give them the distinct feeling that you feel their pain.

  • Take action. The customer wants more than a sympathetic ear. They would like you to make things better. Take any action possible to rectify the situation. They need to see you taking control and producing a better result. And, by the way, taking action does not always involve throwing money at the situation. If you listen carefully, you will find solutions that are tailored to their situation.

  • Apologize. Say you are sorry. Especially if you can’t undo what has already taken place, they want to know how important it is to you that they are unhappy. A letter with a gift certificate can always underscore this fact. Or, say it with flowers!

If you follow these simple steps, you are more than likely to end up with a customer who has even greater respect for you and your company. It is often said that relationships are not solidified until there is a problem. Anyone can sell if there are no obstacles to overcome.

Before you develop plans to implement marketing plans designed to conquer new markets, let’s take a step back and review the one customer base with which you are the least likely to be thinking about getting in touch. Yes, we are not only suggesting that you implement these plans for future customer mishaps — but go back in time as well.

Go back and contact those you did not face in the heat of the battle. Let them know how much their unhappiness has been on your mind and how much you have wanted to tell them how disappointed you are. Let them vent one more time and offer a token of your appreciation.

Then sit back and see if the process leads somewhere else. Don’t ask for additional business or another referral. But do make clear that you know your performance with regard to delivering topnotch customer service is important to you because your business is built on referrals. Let them make the first step in this regard. You may merely feel better for making this move and make them feel better because you care. Or, you just might set yourself up for more business in the long run!


Dave Hershman is a mortgage industry author and speaker — with 8 books and hundreds of articles to his credit. He also heads Mortgage School. You can email Dave at

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