2003 Spring Volume No. 1

10 Steps for Turning Customers with Complaints into Customers for Life

An angry customer can be one of your most important assets. Why? Because for every customer who calls with a complaint, there may be 10 others who are thinking the same thing, but would rather let it drop. The one customer who calls is your early warning signal that something might be wrong.

You’ll never know who’s happy and who isn’t unless you put a system in place for dealing with complaints and learning as much as possible from everyone who calls. Here are some ideas you can consider when dealing with unhappy customers:

1. Remember that a customer with a complaint is not an adversary. They are someone who cares enough about the success of your business to make a complaint.

2. Don’t corner an unhappy customer by countering their objections. Instead, develop rapport and try to move into their corner. Find common ground that you both can agree on. Use statements such as: “I understand that you are unhappy and I want to do everything possible to correct the situation.”

3. Search for the truth the way a journalist does by asking who, what, where, when and how. Ask them who they think is responsible, what they think can be done, where the problem occurs, when it occurs and how they think it can be solved. Accept your customer’s opinions, even if you don’t agree with them. The worst thing you can do is to become defensive and make excuses for your company.

4. Listen, find areas of agreement and make assurances that you will handle the problem. If you are with your customer, not on the phone, be sure to maintain sincere eye contact.

5. Try not to feel threatened, even if your customer is in a threatening mood. Be concerned, but don’t feel ashamed or guilty.

6. If the customer asks you questions, keep your answers short. Don’t talk for more than 30 seconds without returning the conversation to them. Nobody wants to hear a long-winded excuse.

7. Don’t anticipate your customer’s point of view. Sure, you may have heard it before, but the point is to avoid interrupting your customer and to allow them to complete the process of venting their frustrations.

8. Repeat what your customer is saying and ask if this is what they really mean — for example, “What I hear you saying is this … Is that what you mean?” Then, phrase your suggestions for addressing the problem as questions rather than directives, such as, “Would it take care of the problem if we did this …?”

9. Immediately after the conversation, write down everything you remember. Note the nature of the complaint, solutions that were discussed, action steps for solving the problem, and the date and time of a follow-up meeting.

10. Finally, be proactive with your quiet customers. The solutions you find for your “complaining” customer can be used to improve service with other customers.

We all have customers that are harder to satisfy than others. Some you may never be able to satisfy; however, they are a rare exception. It is almost always easier to keep an existing customer happy than it is to find a new one.

Share these tips with your sales and office staff. Role play so that they are ready to handle any problem that arises. Your business will be better for it and you’ll find that customers will be happier and more loyal.

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