How can we best handle our disappointed customers?

by admin on December 2, 2009

One-Minute Answer: In 1992, I co-authored What to Say to Get What You Want: Strong Words for 44 Challenging Bosses, Employees, Coworkers, and Customers. While dissatisfied clients headlined their section of the book, eight other challenging types joined them. The whole list looked like this:

  • Complainers are upset by something they believe you did or failed to do.
  • VIPs demand special treatment, owning to their sense of entitlement.
  • Deceivers try to hoodwink you for personal gain.
  • Negotiators are first cousins to Deceivers and VIPs in that they’re continually pushing for a better deal.
  • Sponges are the 20% of your customers who consume 80% of your time and perhaps your resources. (Remember the 80/20 rule?)
  • Non-Compliants fail to read instructions, pay attention to signs, and otherwise refuse to meet your needs for behavior that enables you to serve them well.
  • Destroyers in retail situations damage displays and products or leave a mess in their wake.
  • Loudmouths are loud, rude, profane, insulting, or physically confrontive.
  • Derelict Guardians allow their kids to be Destroyers or Loudmouths.

The bosses, employees, coworkers and the customers that we wrote about in that book were really tough characters. You and your employees are about to learn how to handle just one of the customers—the Complainer. That’s the bad news. The good news is that much of the guidance in the Five-Minute Answer now ready for you is helpful with the VIP, Deceiver, Loudmouth, Negotiator, as well as the rest. And many of the 35 unmentioned bosses, employees, and coworkers will also be managed better with the ten steps you’ll take after clicking here:

Five-Minute Answer: Here’s the best sequence of steps I know for transforming an angry customer into one eager to give you a second chance to get it right. They are taken from my workshop: “Quality Service: Defining It, Building It, and Sustaining It.”

  1. Listen. Your ears will immediately start winning over customers who feel betrayed. When the confrontation is in person you’ll be aided by slightly elevated eyebrows, a half smile, and an occasional nod. Your aims are, first, to allow the person to vent and calm down and, second, to learn as many facts as you can about what happened. Offer no solutions until both of these goals have been achieved.
  2. Remain calm. If you deal directly with customers, there’s an item in your job description that you may have overlooked: “Encounters three buyer beatings a day.” If you’ve seen this item, you are someone who anticipates rancorous customer complaints, and so deals with them better than others do. You know to listen so well that you bring angry customers down to your level of emotionality rather than rise to theirs.
  3. Validate the customer. A number of years ago I consulted to the customer service office of a large manufacturer and distributor of high tech medical devices. This was one of the many consulting assignments where I learned as much as I taught. In this case, my education came from the service manager who dispatched technicians to hospitals to resolve equipment failures. His mantra still resonates with me: “Fix the customer before you fix the equipment.” He knew that a compassionate statement such as, “This shouldn’t have happened to you” was as important as making sure it didn’t happen again.
  4. Ask questions. You may not have to ask questions to get the Complainer to vent fully (see #1), but you will almost certainly have to probe for the data you need to determine what your corrective action, if any, should be. Use the kinds of questions you learned about on 5/6/09 and 5/13/09. But do not attempt this until you have calmed the customer.
  5. Prove you listened. When others tell you something, either on their own or after you’ve asked a question, they’ll look for evidence that you listened. So, give it to them! Reflect or paraphrase their assertions. A favorite of mine is, “Did I hear correctly that you…?” Nothing is better than action, but “At least they listened to me” isn’t a bad thing to have working for you in second place.
  6. Apologize and ask to make it right. I learned of Jack Paar’s “We Care” service customer program when he and I provided national training for Hallmark Cards store owners. We learned from each other for two years. Boy, can he teach on this point! You should hear the sincerity and compassion in Jack’s voice when he says, “I’m so sorry this happened to you. Will you forgive us, and are you willing to give us the opportunity to make it right for you?”
  7. Be politely assertive with unreason. Peek back at the description above of VIPs, Deceivers, and Negotiators. Imagine what those customers are going to demand from you to solve their problems! Prepare, first, to matter-of-factly handle untruths they may fabricate: “Actually, our contract makes that stipulation. You may have missed it in Article VI, Section 3.” Prepare, second, to insist on a reasonable solution without unnecessarily saying “no” when they push the envelope: “Let me tell you what I can do.”
  8. Thank the customer. “I deeply appreciate the opportunity you are giving us to correct the problem you brought to our attention.” Lay it on.
  9. Take action. Make it right as quickly and as generously as you can. The Red Robin Restaurant chain won my loyalty a few months ago by the way they handled a failure to include “Red’s Rice Bowl” special sauce in the takeout order I had picked up. I didn’t discover the oversight until I got home and so had to concoct a substitute sauce with kitchen ingredients and the advice of the employee I had phoned. Better yet was the $20 Red Robin gift card received in the mail a few days later.
  10. Check back. Is the customer happy with your corrective action? Find out, but please don’t make your request for feedback as intrusive as some of the on-line surveys I’m asked to complete following the support received from a help desk. This is a great time for a simple question: “Did we make it right for you?”

Enough Said: Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. ~Bill Gates

A Winner! In the last ASK I asked for your ideas on additional Customer Service Commandments. Sergeant First Class Donald Jackson sent in a captivating idea. Prior to deploying on his last assignment he was asked by a superior, “Who do you work for?” His answer, “You” was met with rebuke and this advice: “Turn around and look at those faces; that’s who you work for, your soldiers. Without them you are nothing. Sergeant Jackson wants us to take his story one step further into the civilian workforce and make certain that our people know that it’s customers, not bosses who give them their jobs and sign their paychecks. Thanks, Don…for everything!

Next Week: On December 9, we’re returning to weekly one-minute and five-minute answers (more compact than ever) to the most demanding leadership challenges. The topic will be a question asked of me by my State Representative the other day: “What is the biggest mistake that leaders make?” Wait until you hear the answer!


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