No, unhappy customers are not a problem – theyâ€™re an opportunity. It is imperative that whoever handles unhappy customers, whether in person or over the phone, do so with sincere empathy and discerning finesse. The experience may not be pleasant, but at least these unhappy customers cared enough to give you a shot at turning their problems into your opportunities. And this is pretty rare: most distressed customers just chalk their unhappiness up to experience and take their business elsewhere, without telling you why.
Leaving customer complaints unresolved is costly, especially since consumers gladly share their unhappy experiences with others. A study reported in the Wall Street Journal found that when unhappy customers have their complaints quickly resolved to their satisfaction, they tell five people, on average. Unsatisfied complainants, on the other hand, vent their righteous indignation to nine or 10 people. Over time, too many unhappy customers will ruin your business.
The REL Consultancy Group in New York figures that â€œexisting customers generally are worth five times more than new customersâ€ because it costs more to attract new customers than to keep them. Astute businesses never squander unique opportunities to convert irate customers into loyal customers and goodwill ambassadors.
When handling irate customers you have three primary goals: solving the problem, keeping their business and motivating them to be a diplomat for new business.
Do unto others
Ask yourself what you would want done if you were the irate customer. You would be rankled, like your customer, if you had to wait forever for a call back or if you were treated like a nuisance. Irate callersâ€™ problems are important to them and they want you to clearly understand why.
Donâ€™t take it personally. Keep in mind that irate customers are not necessarily mad at you, they are angry at the situation. No matter how accusatory an irate caller may be, you have to maintain a calm tone of voice and demeanor. By deliberately focusing on the customerâ€™s specific problem, you can short-circuit your impulses to get defensive or angry.
There is no excuse for defensive behaviors with customers. Most often you are not being personally attacked. Matching a customerâ€™s anger only escalates an already tense situation and makes a satisfactory resolution all the more difficult to achieve.
Donâ€™t interrupt. Irate customers rehearse their complaint long before they make a complaint call or come pounding on your door. They are adamant that they be heard, no matter how long it takes to vent their anger. They do not want interruptions in mid-sentence, nor are they willing to have their call placed on hold. Donâ€™t interrupt with clarifying questions. Letting them conclude their monologue makes them more willing to listen to you when itâ€™s your turn.
Keep focused. Always focus on a successful resolution. Under no circumstances should you start arguing about irrelevant issues or going off on tangents like who said what to whom when.
Listen for and carefully note relevant facts. Successful resolutions are most often in the details. Concen-trate on the â€œfive Wâ€™sâ€ – Who, What, Where, When, Why – and How and try to determine exactly why the customer is angry and what he or she wants done to resolve the problem.
Paraphrasing callers helps clarify situations and reassures your client that you are listening. For example, by asking, â€œAm I correct in understanding that it is critical that your replacement pressure washer be delivered by noon today?â€ you are persuading your irate caller that you are carefully listening and taking this complaint seriously. You have built a bridge and crossed it: you have made the transition from the customerâ€™s problem to your solution.
Say you are sorry. Some experts recommend never saying you are sorry for fear that such an admission may be used in court. Other experts recommend apologizing for sound business reasons. Saying you are sympathetic does not admit guilt, but may be an effective first step towards transforming a problem into an opportunity. Letâ€™s not assume weâ€™re going to court; letâ€™s just resolve the problem.
Say a weed trimmer is unavoidably delayed when a customerâ€™s car breaks down. Another customer is waiting for it and there is nothing you can do about it. Say youâ€™re sorry and offer an incentive, maybe a discount, to relieve the customerâ€™s irritation. Most often people want only a sympathetic awareness of their plight. It is amazing how sincere, sympathetic statements can defuse tense situations.
Take personal responsibility. The best rule of thumb when handling irate customers is empowering your employees to either resolve a problem immediately or to take personal responsibility for ensuring its swift resolution. To this end you must train and empower your staff to effectively handle irate customers. It is not a skill weâ€™re born with.
Require the person taking the complaint to accept personal responsibility for ensuring its satisfactory resolution. Have employees give callers their name and phone numbers and follow-up with them to ensure problems are satisfactorily resolved within a given time period.
If the problem is not resolved quickly, give the irate customer a date and time someone will call back and tell the customer who will be calling. Assure the customer that the problem will be resolved. When you do call back, make sure you have a solution at hand – donâ€™t just say, â€œI hear you have a problem.â€ This only makes already irate customers angrier at having to explain everything again.
Refuse to be abused. One key point to remember when dealing with unhappy customers is that neither you nor your employees should tolerate abusive or threatening behavior from angry customers. If a customer is being abusive and threatening or using foul language when voicing a complaint, your best strategy in such situations – when you can get a word in edgewise – is to calmly inform the customer that when he or she calms down you can begin working toward a satisfactory resolution. Under no circumstances should employees have to take uncalled-for abuse or feel threatened.
Track your successes. Have pre-printed forms handy at your front desk and near every phone to jot down a problemâ€™s five Wâ€™s. Have every completed complaint form forwarded to the storeâ€™s management, including the dates of its origin and resolution and a clear description of what was done to resolve the problem. This information can be used to plan or revise training programs and identify employee development needs; it points out strengths and weaknesses. Follow-up calls to the customer from a manager reinforces the perception that you really care.
Theyâ€™re all VIPs. In todayâ€™s highly competitive rental business environment, every customer is a Very Important Person. No matter how hard you try to do things right the first time, youâ€™re going to have unhappy customers from time to time and youâ€™ll just have to manage them.
Do not forfeit unique opportunities for profitable business relationships by not resolving customer complaints. In the long run, even if a customerâ€™s anger seems unfounded, you and your bottom line will profit from more effective and efficient complaint resolution.