You have to recruit five satisfied customers to make up for every one that gets peeved at you!

TARP is a business consulting firm based in Arlington, Va., that specializes in customer experience research. Its clients include many of the nation’s most recognizable Fortune 500 firms, as well as the federal government.

Going back more than a decade, TARP did some studies on customer satisfaction that stand as landmarks in the business world for analyzing customer behavior. Their findings are as important to people in the PHC contracting business as in any other field. You would do well to heed these four customer service truths uncovered by TARP’s research.

Customer Service Truth No. 1: Word of mouth is the best form of advertising.

TARP’s studies have shown that if you excel at customer service, each satisfied customer will tell an average of three other people about you.

This is encouraging. It’s like getting three satisfied customers for the price of professionally serving one.

However, before you get too excited about this, ponder for a moment the next profound truth, which ought to send a big chill up your spine.

Customer Service Truth No. 2: Bad news travels further than good news.

TARP also determined that if you mess up, each dissatisfied customer tells, on average, 15 other people about you.

Contemplate that arithmetic. If you do well by someone, that person will spread the word to three other people. But if you goof up, on average 15 other people will hear about it.

This means you have to recruit five satisfied customers to make up for every one who gets peeved at you.

What’s more, it is much easier to irritate someone in the course of your work than to please a person, wouldn’t you agree? Show up on time, do a decent job, charge a reasonable price, and most of the time you won’t get any special thanks. That’s what a customer had the right to expect all along, isn’t it?

But inadvertently track a little dirt in the house, say the wrong thing, take a little longer or charge a little more than expected, and you’ve made an enemy. If the customer is in a bad mood to begin with, the slightest misstep could trigger a snit fit.

This is the most daunting customer service truth. You have to truly excel at customer service to overcome all the bad-mouthing that is bound to come your way even when you try to do a good job.

How do you excel at service? By making it a high priority with everybody you employ. By recruiting not only technically competent workers, but “people” people who know how to interact with the public. By offering customer service training for everyone in a job that involves customer contact.

Customer Service Truth No. 3: Complainers are your best friends.

TARP found that for every complaint made to a company, there are 26 silent, dissatisfied customers. Only 4 percent of customers with a grievance will bother to raise it with company personnel.

Your problem is not with the 4 percent who call or write a letter telling you they’re mad. It’s with the other 96 percent who suffer your perceived neglect in silence.

TARP’s studies further determined that of customers who have a grievance but do not take the time to complain, 63 percent will switch companies without telling the offending firm why.

For most people in business, dealing with complaints is the most agonizing part of their work. But cherish the complainers. Their complaints serve the same purpose as a baby’s cry. They are the ones who inform you that something is wrong, and thus give you a chance to correct it. The people who suffer in silence are the ones you have to worry about.

Customer Service Truth No. 4: Customer anger can be turned to your advantage.

Of customers who do complain and receive a satisfactory response, TARP found that 70 percent become a firm’s most loyal customers.

Just as reformed sinners become the most avid churchgoers, so it is with business clientele who get turned around. A mistake is an opportunity to solidify business relationships and establish long-term bonds.

Remember, you don’t have this opportunity with the majority of dissatisfied customers who simply take leave without telling you why. Learn to love the complainers.