All business owner / entrepreneurs are in the same business… the business of attracting, acquiring, satisfying and retaining loyal customers. Yes, it is critically important for you to acquire new customers but perhaps even more important to satisfy and retain those who have come to know, like and trust you. By some estimates for service businesses, it is 5 to 7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. As customer satisfaction is paramount, it is critically important to effectively handle an unhappy customer.
Unhappy customers are a drain for any business, and it only takes one of them to ruin a perfectly good day at work for everyone. It only takes one unsatisfied customer to steer many more prospective customers away from you.
Unhappy customers have their reasons. Some don’t feel well, some have unrealistic expectations, and others may just have lousy dispositions. However, you must be honest in recognizing that others may have a legitimate complaint and that you, somehow, may have been complicit in the crime of poor customer service.
Whatever the cause, unhappy customers are blockages to a positive brand image and to your continued success. Obviously you want those unhappy customers happy again. The customer may not always be right, but if they are a valued customer you need to take control of their complaints and turn that to your advantage. The upside potential of great customer service is told in the true story of the Tylenol poisoning case of 1982. In that year tainted Tylenol capsules claimed seven lives and the product market share tanked. The manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson immediately recognized the issue, went to great lengths to eliminate additional risk and overall handled the situation so well that respect for the brand grew and Tylenol market share recovered to previous levels.
Johnson & Johnson showed how handling delicate customer issues, if done well, can differentiate one supplier from another. Generally there are 7 steps for resolving customer issues or complaints which are time proven. Responsiveness is the key – as time must not lapse making things worse with non-action. Be proactive and approach the customer as soon as you learn they are unhappy, or disgruntled.
Here are the 7 steps to take to ensure quality customer service:
- Listen Intently: Listen to the customer, and do not interrupt them. They need to tell their story and feel that they have been heard.
- Thank Them: Thank the customer for bringing the problem to your attention. You can’t resolve something you aren’t completely aware of, or may be making faulty assumptions about.
- Apologize: Sincerely convey to the customer your apology for the way the situation has made them feel. This is not the time for justifications or excuses; you must apologize.
- Seek the Best Solution: Determine what the customer is seeking as a solution. Ask them; often they’ll surprise you for asking for less than you initially thought you’d have to give—especially when they perceive your apology and intention is genuinely sincere.
- Reach Agreement: Seek to agree on the solution that will resolve the situation to their satisfaction. Your best intentions can miss the mark completely if you still fail to deliver what the customer wants.
- Take Quick Action: Act on the solution with a sense of urgency. Customers will often respond more positively on your dedication to helping them immediately rather than on the solution itself.
- Follow-up: Follow-up to ensure the customer is completely satisfied, especially when you have had to enlist the help of others for implementing the solution. Everything up to this point will be for naught if the customer feels that “out of sight is out of mind.”
Problems and mistakes happen. But customer service problems can be opportunities if addressed properly. It’s how you honestly acknowledge and handle issues which counts with people. Customers will remember you, and happily give you another chance to delight them when you choose to correct problems with the very best you can offer, demonstrating with a doubt that you value them and their business. With a culture of always delighting customers even in the face of difficulties and problems, a business can elevate its standing to being the one supplier who somehow, some way manages to be extraordinary.
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