I have been involved with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) here in St. Louis for about 30 years. I continue to serve on the Standards and Compliance (formerly Ethics) Committee. This committee reviews cases where a company has not responded regarding a complaint and, therefore, is in line to be expelled from the BBB. I continue working with the BBB on this committee because one of my stated personal goals is to do everything I can to upgrade the professionalism of businesses in general and HVAC businesses specifically.

When our committee receives a list of companies who are up for expulsion, my chosen task is to contact each of them and discuss their situation. I have found this exercise to be beneficial to the company, the BBB, and myself as well. I explain to the company the importance of not only responding to the BBB after a customer makes a complaint but that it’s even more important to make every effort to satisfy the customer. I’m frequently amazed at the small nature of the unresolved complaints. You may have seen the numbers wherein a dissatisfied customer tells 20 times more people than a satisfied customer. Then assume those people who are told about the unsatisfactory service that was received tell 10 more people, and so on — soon you have several hundred people discussing the poor service your company provided. I have seen examples where the cost to solve the problem and satisfy the customer was under $100. In these cases, usually someone’s temper and ego got in the way of common sense.

Below is a list of some of the things I have learned from my experience that I want to share with you.

1. Do everything you can to satisfy each and every customer. What may seem like a small issue to you may be a big issue in the mind of the customer.

2. It is often wise to swallow your pride and do what the customer wants right then. The longer things go unresolved, the bigger an issue they become in the eyes of the customer and the harder it becomes to satisfy them.

3. Respond promptly to all issues that are brought to your attention. This doesn’t mean you need to make an immediate decision, but it does mean you respond and let the customer know you are aware of the issue and are on top of it. Our employees will tell you that quite often when an issue is brought to me, especially in the afternoon, I will advise them that I will have an answer for them in the morning. Thinking about the issue overnight puts it into a different perspective and puts me in a better position to make the right decision.

4. I believe strongly that the phone at a heating and air conditioning company should always be answered by a live person. Anytime you call our company, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, you are always answered by a live person. We don’t have an answering machine nor do we have any menus. (I hate menus — especially those where I am supposed to spell someone’s name). When making the calls to a recent group of six cases I received from the BBB, not one of the phones was answered by a live person. Not one! There were four construction/remodelling companies, a car repair location, and a tax preparer.

I could have been a potential customer for any one of those companies — they had no idea even if they saw my phone number, yet not one bothered to answer me personally.

5. If confronted with an issue you know you should have addressed, don’t list a litany of excuses why you haven’t done anything about it. Admit the oversight, apologize, and have someone take care of the problem immediately.

While I have discussed the effect of these BBB issues, something else we must remember today is the importance of positive reviews as well as the effect of negative reviews. It seems likely that a customer who complains to the BBB will likely post a negative review on social media.

I strongly urge that you give your employees the authority to do whatever is necessary, within reason, to satisfy each and every one of your customers.