You hear and read a lot about the importance of good customer service. When everyone competes on the same products or low prices, customer service — how well you treat your customers — is often the differentiating factor. It’s what builds loyalty, which translates into a profitable business.
But, let’s face it. Your employees are only human. They’re going to have bad days, insufficient training, a particularly tough situation or touchy customer — and customer service is going to suffer. Even your best efforts will sometimes fall between the cracks and a customer will end up unhappy. Unfortunately, if you can believe the statistics, you have probably lost that customer, because only a minuscule proportion of dissatisfied customers complain. Most of the rest remain silent and never do business with you again.
If a customer complains, you have a terrific opportunity. Because research also shows that customers who have their problems addressed and satisfactorily resolved are actually more loyal to your company than those who never had any problems!
Here is a great five-step process to make good on bad service. It might help you remember if you think of it in terms of the five vowels: A, E, I, O, U.
- APOLOGIZE. This is the first and most important step. Actually, this is often all people want — a sincere “I’m sorry.” When a business owner or manager gets defensive or acts as if the customer’s complaint is unreasonable, this only serves to escalate the situation. But saying, “I’m so sorry that happened to you,” or “I apologize for that upsetting incident,” goes a long ways towards diffusing anger. Notice those phrases do not take blame. Although you should acknowledge responsibility if it was an error on your part, you don’t have to if you believe it was the customer’s interpretation and not your error. But whatever you say, do it sincerely.
- EMPATHIZE. A great people skill is the ability to put yourself in the other guy’s shoes and see it from his perspective. Having some compassion for his frustration will help build rapport. Resist the empty phrase, “I understand how you feel.” Instead, be specific: “I would be upset, too, if I had to wait that long for my order.” “I can relate to your frustration-I had a similar thing happen to me last week with my dry cleaners.” Validate the customer’s emotions-it helps him save face.
- IMPORTANCE. Treat the complaint with a sense of urgency, as if correcting this problem is the most important thing you have to do. This means addressing it immediately, not asking the customer to come back or write a letter to the home office, not sending an obvious form letter in response. Take charge, make it a priority, make it personal, fix it.
- OFFER A SYMBOL OF ATONEMENT. In addition to correcting the problem, offering some other token of repentance is an incredible gesture of good will. This can be in the form of a discount on future purchases, a free service, a giveaway, a gift. This is an effective way to appease hurt feelings and also provides another chance for the customer to have a positive experience with you.
- UP, FOLLOW. (Okay, so that one’s a stretch in my vowel format.) The last step is the one that seals your fate with that customer. Follow up with her to ensure that the problem was resolved and that she’s satisfied with your efforts to make good. That extra step of concern on your part, which is so seldom done, will be a memorable and positive experience for her, building good will and increasing the prospects of her continuing business.
It’s true that it’s easier and less costly to “get it right the first time,” but failing to anticipate that things will go wrong is deadly. Accept that you will get complaints. Then have a system in place to handle them. When customers actually experience the reality of their importance to you, it can only have a positive impact on your bottom line.
By Brandon Babcock