Customer complaints can be an effective tool for strengthening a relationship.
There are three reasons for this:
- Complaints point out areas that need improvement. They also act as warning signs that a customer is about to switch to a competitor.
- Complaints give you a second chance to provide service and satisfaction to dissatisfied customers. A complaining customer is being honest with you and giving you an opportunity to make amends.
- Complaints are a great opportunity to strengthen customer loyalty. Most customers don’t think about what kind of service you give when everything goes well. They take it for granted. But when there’s a problem, you can be sure they’re evaluating you and your service.
What customers want
Customers have one thing in common when they make a complaint — they want it handled quickly and professionally, with a minimum amount of energy on their part. The more complaints you resolve quickly, the better your chances are of establishing long-term relationships.
Complaining customers can be effective for improving the relationship or a blueprint for disaster, depending on how you handle them.
Here are 7 tips:
- Seek out and welcome complaints. They aren’t annoyances but opportunities to get and build customer loyalty. Be wary of long-term customers who never complain. Either they’re not being candid, or they’re getting ready to switch to another company without explaining why.
- Take every complaint seriously. What seems minor to you may loom very large in the customer’s mind. Consider every complaint as a serious opportunity you can’t overlook.
- Learn about and get better at handling complaints. In addition to pointing out ways that the quality of your service can be improved, studying and analyzing complaints may reveal minor problems before they become major.
- Use your best judgment to do the right thing when you receive a customer complaint. You build trust by being open, truthful and showing confidence. Ask probing questions to learn what the customer is complaining about. Assume nothing, and don’t make excuses. Try to avoid accepting blame or placing blame. Ask good questions to find out what your customer needs to resolve the situation.
- Be a good listener. This means listening actively so you show your customers that you understand. For example, if the customer has a complex message to convey, repeat the main points to show the customer you understand. Then ask clarifying questions.
- Break or bend the rules when it makes sense and is appropriate. Make sure you keep your sales manager informed. Don’t feel you always have to go by the book. Sometimes the spirit of the rule is what’s more importance, since rules are designed to make things work more efficiently.
- Use winning words and tactful phrases when possible. Avoid negative words and phrases, such as “We can’t do that,” or “It’s against company policy.” Instead, try the “let’s-find-an-alternate-solution approach” or offer to do more research.
Adapted from: Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service, by Ron Zemke, president of Performance Research Associates, Minneapolis, MN.