The Fast and the Furious: Are Enraged Customers a Component of Rapid Business Growth?


Written by Michelle Shaffer, Oregon Outreach Manager

With great speed comes a greater opportunity for error. Every lifeguard and mother knows to tell children to ‘slow down’ when running near a pool. Quick feet on slick cement can often result in split chins and chipped teeth. For this reason speed is often associated with risk, pain and crashes. But when big business is involved it’s the stock market that comes crashing down. Crashes are followed by depression —not the state of mind kind —but the ‘we’re losing our house’ kind. Nearly every American has been hit by the recession, either as a consumer or business owner. So it comes as no surprise that a Better Business Bureau survey found the biggest challenge facing Oregon and Washington business owners was “increasing customers and growing business.”

People have gleaned from all sorts of sources, from Greek mythology to the nightly news, that wanting more is self-indulgent and greedy. Wanting more is bad for our health and bad for business. To err on the side of caution, is to survive. Icarus and Enron were great teachers of this, therefore the need to grow a business can present owners with many challenges.


Numbers vs words

Numbers can tell a different story than words. A story unfolded from the 2014 complaint statistics BBB made available last year. In 2014 “Cellular Telephone Service” was the most complained about industry in the country. Conversely it made the 100th spot on the list of industries consumers inquire most about. A quick internet search led me to the “top ten cell phone service providers” of 2016. Before finding the list, my brain could only come up with four. The stats suggest, that when options are few, research done before buying is an uncommon practice. Consumers jump aboard without knowing where they’re sailing, then jump ship due to poor service —only to find few remaining life preservers in the waters to sustain them. This is the consumer experience in the telecommunications world. As the numbers reveal, it’s fraught with frustration for all involved. Statista, an online statistics company, captured smart phone use in US at 62.6 million users in 2010, in 2015 that number had risen to 190.5 million. And the numbers aren’t reversing despite issues, instead they are increasing, with users projected at 236.8 million 2019. It’s an industry with intense demand and a small number of real players to meet that demand. Hiccups in the customer experience from billing to service, are often just part of the package.

Roofing is the reverse of the telecommunications industry as found by the BBB report. It was the industry consumers researched most, but fell to number thirty-three with regard to complaints.  With thousands of roofers to choose from, it would seem consumers feel empowered to comparison shop first. The implications are that a sense of preparedness leaves less to complain about when the work is complete. However, it is still an industry with its own share of headaches.

“When you’re spending tens of thousands of dollars on a roof, you deserve a great product and great service,” Wendy Marvin, Matrix Roofing owner, said.

Marvin was determined to avoid headaches by working to ensure her customers didn’t experience them first.

“I felt when we started out we could do it best,” she said. “It’s that belief, and the hard work that goes with it that’s grown our business.”

Wanting vs willing

More often than not an owner that says they want to grow their business is like the rest of us saying we want six pack abs. It’s a nice idea but the reality is sweat and sacrifice. In my thousands of conversations with business owners, few were candid about growth; a handful plainly stating they had no interest in committing to it. One contractor spoke of his attempts to hire employees that ultimately didn’t share his perfectionist approach and therefore were all let go. Sometimes growth requires letting go.

Cliff Johnson of Portland’s Vacasa, a vacation home rental agency, has no secrets about his ambitions to grow the company substantially. In 2014 the company, founded just five years earlier, ranked ninth on Inc. Magazines Fastest Growing Private Companies in the nation and has continued to expand globally since. In 2015 Vacasa was awarded BBB’s Torch Award for Oregon’s large business category, for excellence in the marketplace.

“We are happy to receive an award that recognizes our commitment to excellence in customer satisfaction,” said Gerard Lester, vice president of business development for Vacasa. “It’s especially rewarding to be recognized for our service during a time of incredible growth.”

Having worked in BBB’s Oregon office for the last four years, I have a unique perspective in that I don’t have customers —but I listen to them frequently. They come in armed with folders of receipts and printed email exchanges that are intended to show they are right and the business is wrong. Sometimes this is true. Sometimes it’s not. My method is simple. I listen. I make copies of documents. I ask what they hope to receive, and tell them the company will be contacted. I give them my direct phone number and assure them I am available for further questions should they have any after they leave. The only thing that may differ is the time it takes to complete the process; sometimes ten minutes, sometimes an hour.

“Whatever the business does is fine,” said one man on his way out my office. “I’m interested to hear what the business has to say, but if I’m not refunded, that’s okay too.”

As a business owner, it’s important to know some basic steps can turn a discouraged customer around, leading to a pleased consumer that will be happy to spread the word of their experience, and grow your business for you.

  1. Believe a resolution is possible. Some consumers rescind a complaint when they feel the owner is trying to be fair.
  2. Listen when someone says a mistake has been made. It could be yours.
  3. Offer options. Give your customer a choice even in a refund situation. People feel empowered about having had a voice in the decision.

Irate customers don’t have to be considered ‘business as usual’. Many owners that understand growth but remain committed to clients have seen otherwise.