Do You Know the Power of Your Customers?


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Back in the 1990’s the White House Office of Consumer Affairs commissioned a study on customer service. One of the interesting statistics revealed was that an unhappy customer might tell twenty or more people about the problem they had with a company. Since that time, many studies have confirmed that simple statistic is true. However, in today’s world, twenty people may be a grossly underestimated number, at least for some unhappy customers.

People now blog, tweet, YouTube and Facebook about their experiences. If the complaint goes “viral,” tens of thousands – maybe even millions – of people will learn about the problem. An extreme example of this is Dave Carroll’s song posted on YouTube about how United Airlines broke his guitar. It has been viewed 11 million times.

A scorned customer may tell others about the problem, which impacts reputation. If that scorned customer chooses not to do business with the company, it impacts sales. Hence, the customer has power. How much power?

Meet Richard Vladovic. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times (September 6, 2011), Vladovic had a dispute with his health insurance company. He received a letter stating the insurance company overpaid his dentist for a mouth guard (Vladovic grinds his teeth at night) and was going to take the amount out of his deductable. When Vladovic called to complain he was bounced around to different call center reps, and in his mind, treated with disrespect.

This insurance company has a multimillion dollar contract with the Los Angeles Unified School District, and Vladovic is one of the thousands of people that the company insures. What the insurance company didn’t know was that Mr. Vladovic is a member of the school district’s board, and the insurance company was about to find out how powerful one customer can be. Vladovic convinced his fellow board members to kill the multimillion dollar contract.

You never know the power of your customers. Maybe an even better word to describe this power is influence. There will be times when you may not be able to make a customer happy. That doesn’t mean you can’t treat them with dignity and respect. Bad customer service will make a small problem large. On the flip side, respect and courtesy can make a bad situation better, even if it doesn’t completely solve the problem.

Let the story of Richard Vladovic and the Los Angeles Unified School District remind us of the importance of managing the customer’s experience, even in the wake of a confrontation. You never know how much power – or influence – one customer may have.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Shep Hyken
Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. As a customer service speaker and expert, Shep works with companies who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. He is a hall of fame speaker (National Speakers Association) and a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author.


  1. Shep, thanks so much for sharing another story that has such a powerful impact for every company. Customers are now the voice of the company, whether the company realizes that fact or not. Bravo for Richard being able to make this company realize that they need to treat every customer with respect and dignity. People have no problem with not getting what the want, it’s how and they way that the message is communicated that makes all the difference in how the customer feels and his impression of the company. Richard Shapiro, The Center For Client Retention @richardRshapiro


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