I was reading an article yesterday titled “The Untapped Value Of Complainers ” at Fastcompany.com. In it, the author Don Peppers talks about how it is possible to transform a problem customer into one of your biggest supporters. I thought this was an excellent, positive way of looking at things. He points out that, whatever your company did, or didn’t do, to anger that customer, the fallout can create major business havoc if not dealt with properly. He also gives 5 actions you can take to “make things right” with that customer and guide them in a more positive direction:
Acknowledge: Always begin by acknowledging the complaint and the complainer. Whether or not you think a complaint has merit, you have to start by granting the legitimacy of the complainer’s point of view. Empathy is a very powerful cure-all, but it must be displayed freely and without reservation on your part.
Apologize: There’s no substitute for simply saying “we’re sorry.” No ifs, ands, or buts–just plain old “sorry for this.” As the complainer tells you what’s wrong from his or her perspective, apologize early and often. With feeling.
Amplify: Probe for additional information about the complaint. As the complainer vents to you, and as you are acknowledging the complainer’s problem and apologizing for the inconvenience or for whatever other injury the customer incurred, keep asking if there is anything more–any further dissatisfaction that has not yet been voiced. Get it all out.
Ask: Once the problem has been fully exposed–when the complainer says there isn’t anything more–you should ask the single most important question: What does the customer think would be a fair and satisfactory resolution? How can your company remedy the injury?
Act: Then, if it’s at all possible, do what the customer has just told you would be fair.
I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with this. Our company has a wonderful reputation for customer service; our representatives are gracious and down-to-earth folks, and I want our customers to come back again and again. We have established trust with our clients, and we try our best to make sure they’re happy with the ENTIRE transaction — and follow-up service. I’ve dealt with a lot of B2B companies whose employees tend to have a “why are YOU here?” attitude when dealing with customers, especially with smaller accounts. Frankly, I think that fosters an “us versus them” attitude, and they probably don’t understand that ONE mad customer can make or break you nowadays.
I think it’s a much better practice to make good on problems. Sometimes, it’s best to let the customer be right–even if you don’t agree deep down. There are times when a company needs to stand its ground, but not when the fire can be quenched with a HEARTFELT apology and a refund, repair, or a replacement. That costs a lot less than the alternative, in my humble opinion.