It's a fact: Every company has happy and unhappy customers, and unhappy customers are more vocal than happy ones. It seems as if unhappiness is a real motivator for people to spread the word, potentially over the Internet to thousands of people. Think Dell Hell.
Customer reference programs are a great way to turn the tide by giving the happy customers more of a voice. I recently read of testimonials as "intermediated word-of-mouth marketing" (I can't remember the source), which is a great way to look at it. Although more authentic and convincing, pure word of mouth marketing is difficult for a company to influence and shape. Customer reference programs solve this problem by listening to happy customers and giving them a strong voice, counterbalancing the vocal dissatisfied customers.
So what's the main cause for customers to be dissatisfied? Product? Support services? You guessed wrong: Several surveys measured that employee attitude is the cause for 68% of lost business.
This raises an interesting question: Should the reference managers also look out for vocal, dissatisfied customers to turn them around? Or is this the responsibility of other departments, say sales (for enterprise customers) or the customer service department (for consumers)? Many companies don't seem to have a process for monitoring and satisfying disgruntled clients.
Next time someone flames your company on the Internet, pick up the phone or open your email client and reach out to the customer. Unhappy customers that have been taken seriously and have been satisfied have been found to be more loyal than customers who've never had a problem. After you have solved the problem, why not ask them to return the favor, rectify or delete their blog rant and to give you a testimonial. They'll probably be so glad you reached out to them that they'll do it. People are more forgiving than you may think.