Have you ever been so overloaded with installations that you desperately needed another contractor? I have. I was facing these circumstances one day when an installer dropped by my store. I jumped at the chance to hire him for a job.

I remember looking in his truck, hoping to see a power stretcher. Of course, I didn't see one. When I asked if he had one, he assured me that he didn't need one. "I kick like a mule," he explained. I knew even the best mule's kicking couldn't produce results on par with a power stretcher's but, in this particular emergency situation, using him seemed worth the risk.

Later that day just before closing, a colleague asked if we should call the customer to learn how the installation went. I adamantly and quickly replied, "NO! No news is good news. Let sleeping dogs lie!"

Since then, I've thought about that scenario many times. I remember feeling highly stressed for several weeks, wondering whether that customer was happy. Every time the phone rang, I immediately thought it was that customer. It was not fun! I even thought about changing our store's phone to an unlisted number, and changing the store's name.

You're probably wondering what happened. Well, I couldn't muster the courage to call, and the customer never phoned in to complain. So, I never found out whether that customer was happy with the installation or not. Yet, at that time, I firmly believed the myth that no news is good news.

I've since learned how wrong I was. Research shows that 23 of every 24 customers who are unhappy will not complain to the store. So, if my customer was unhappy, chances are she wouldn't have let me know anyway. She would just decide never to return and buy from me again. (Most customers don't complain because the complaint process is a hassle, or they don't like to face a confrontation.)

Even worse for retailers today, the average unhappy customer will tell eight or 10 or 12 friends about the problem you caused. I'm familiar with one study that found a single unhappy customer would relate his dissatisfaction to 41 friends. That's a lot of potential customers poisoned by this one experience. And away goes your hard-earned reputation, right down the drain!

Do you know which of your customers feel loyal to you? Or which feel satisfied? Or which feel unhappy? Or do you still hope that "no news is good news?"

If you do, you're fighting reality. Teach your staff that the opposite is true: "No news is bad news."

Also, teach your personnel that, in this business environment, satisfying customers isn't enough to gain their lifetime loyalty. The best way to grow and be profitable is to earn loyal customers.

The consumer world is different from what it was just a decade ago. The poll-taking Gallup Organization reports that just because a customer is satisfied with a specific transaction doesn't mean she will come back. Only loyal customers come back. In fact, developing customer loyalty is the most important foundation of ongoing business growth.

In one study, customer loyalty increased 30% to 40% when businesses encouraged complaints. Loyalty increased 92% when complaints were encouraged and solved. In fact, a customer who is willing to complain becomes twice as loyal as one who is not. It sounds like solving customer problems builds loyalty, doesn't it?

How could you encourage more of your unhappy customers to complain? First and foremost, take the initiative to call them - or at least send them a survey form. Ask how the floor covering looks, and how they feel about it. When a customer complains, let your first response be empathy for the situation. Champions improve because they seek feedback on their work. Feedback is the breakfast of champions.

Elite businesses know exactly how well they are developing customer loyalty. These businesses follow the best practices of great customer service organizations. They track customer satisfaction with written and oral surveys after the installation is complete. (Sears, for example, offers a $5 discount on the next purchase provided the customer answers a satisfaction survey via the telephone. You could do that too.)

They track customer satisfaction with internal operating statistics. They track customers who don't buy, and evaluate why. They share customer satisfaction data widely within the company to stimulate employees to improve performance. They formally and continually communicate to employees the impact of their performance on overall company goals. They even tie incentive pay to statistics of customer satisfaction. They formally recognize and reward employees' outstanding customer service.

Can you imagine the information you could learn by knowing why your customers do or don't buy? Knowledge is power. When you know how to create loyalty, you will. If you don't, the best you can do is guess. Encouraging customers to complain will give you not only information, but also the opportunity to recover from customer service mistakes - and engender greater loyalty in more customers.

If creating customer loyalty is the most important foundation for ongoing business growth, then we fool ourselves to think, that no news is good news, and that it's okay to let sleeping dogs lie.

The truth is no news is bad news. The critical question you face is, are you afraid to learn the truth or can you handle it?