Wednesday, June 22, 2011

McDonald's coffee guy; why complainers are hot

Bad coffee. For Melburnians, it is one of the sins along with disinterest in the weather and the absence of black clothing.  And so, McDonalds has launched its attempt to win custom back from people disgruntled by their burnt beans and insipid froth. Complaints, or more likely, declining sales have pushed McDonalds to admit it was dishing out bad product. 

Have you come across the TV ad?  It centers on a gentleman seen arguing with a bus driver. The scene is set that this fellow lives for complaining.  And yet, there he later sits enjoying a McDonalds brew without complaint.

What I find interesting about the ad is the portrayal of complainers.  This guy is a world weary, grey skinned, relatively unattractive man. Whilst McDonalds could have snaffled Hugh Jackman or a Cleo bachelor to play the role, that would have confused the message. McDonalds are inferring that complaints are an ugly behaviour, and that complainers are unattractive.

This is an interesting heuristic that is entrenched in most businesses.  The link between "complaints = problem = negative = cost = seek to eliminate" is extremely strong.  And this is where a fear of social media rears its head.  As long as you see complaints as a negative thing to be reduced, you are cutting yourself off from the best market feedback you can get.

 I know, I know.  You are going to say that customers are your priority, you take them seriously and you even monitor satisfaction.  But I would guess that the governing bias is still that when a complaint is received, it is seen as a problem for your business, not an opportunity.  Why?  Two principles from Behavioural Economics are at play.

Not Invented Here Bias - we have a tendency to shun the ideas of others. Working as a product manager, I certainly fall into the trap of thinking I know more than my customers...and I do, but about what the widget should do, not how that customer is experiencing it.  My subjective view must not blind me to the relatively objective view offered by the customer.

Status quo bias - it's more comfortable for us in the status quo.  A complaint might mean we have to step out of our rut and life might get more challenging. But here's the thing. Status quo is a misnomer in any market; you cannot stay stagnant because the world is not, and the complaints you receive are the market's way of telling you to get moving.

So here's my challenge to us all. When you next receive a complaint, I want you to imagine the person has the charm and looks of Hugh Jackman rather than the washed-out McDonalds man.  And I want you to take a deep breath, relax your shoulders, and absorb the gift of real-life market feedback.

PS as an aside, McDonalds is offering a free replacement coffee if you are dissatisfied with the brew.  A classic example of overcoming loss aversion by convincing customers they have nothing to lose (except of course their time).

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