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Posted by Jane Hooper on January 02, 2018
Unhappy customers

Good customer service has become the key to business success, and a vital way for small companies to stand out against the giants. It wins trust, loyalty and sales.

Service and the customer experience have to be at the heart of every company’s strategy now as expectations get higher every year. Technology means you can chose a mix of platforms to suit you and your business from live chat, chat bots, VoIP, messaging, social media, or the old fashioned telephone. Customer service is often judged on its speed of response now, and emails can often be too slow.  

Technology is great for low priority customer service. For some businesses issues service can be optimized by developing a really good FAQ on the web site, which allows customer success and satisfaction by enabling them to find the solution for themselves 24/7 – and at a very cheap price to provide.

When a customer is really upset, only speaking to another human being will have any hope of pacifying them. As a business owner, this job often falls to you to sort. And therein is the first problem; it is very hard not to feel personally attacked when it is our own company under fire. We can also feel very uncomfortable, that we have personally failed and betrayed that customer’s trust in us. The one thing we cannot do, however, is get defensive.  We have to remind ourselves instead that we too would be upset if we have been let down.

When we are dealing with an unhappy customer on the telephone, there is a correct procedure to follow.

  1. Stay honest throughout. The one and only way to win back trust is with total transparency.
  2. At the start of the call, they will be venting.  Getting screamed at is no-one’s idea of fun, but bear with it.  The customer will just be taking the lid off a cauldron of their own emotions. Let them get it all out.
  3. Do not interrupt – ever. Be patient.
  4. They are looking for understanding. It is possible to sympathise without admitting liability. Saying things such as “I am so, so sorry to hear you are upset” will not come back and bite you, if you later decide that their complaint is not justified.
  5. Pay attention. Nothing is a greater red flag to someone upset than finding that the person at the other end of the phone is sounding dis-interested or only giving lip service to listening.  
  6. Only when the customer has totally vented, can you start moving onto fact gathering. During the explosion, you will probably have had a lot of irrelevant emotional information. Once this is all out, and not before, you can start looking at the hard facts of the case.
  7. Double check those facts carefully as you go along, remembering that we are all prone to expressing ourselves badly.
  8. When you have the facts, move onto a solution. It may be that you have to go and find out more information prior to giving them a total solution. That is ok. Never be afraid to say you do not know everything.
  9. Remember throughout, the customer is far, far better informed that they used to be. They know the products, the markets, and their rights.
  10. If you are going to be calling them back, give them a timescale you will call back in, and make sure you hit it, even if it is only to ask for an extension on that time.
  11. Never, ever promise it will not happen again – you are laying yourself open to that trust being re-broken because it is a promise that you might not be able to keep.
  12. End the call with a summary of facts. Confirm that summary by email. There is then no chance of misunderstanding on either side.
  13. Make good notes in your CRM so everyone is aware of what is going on.
  14. If you are at fault, be absolutely straight in taking responsibility. It is the one and only thing that will win back your customer’s faith. Small gifts, compensation and future discounts often help as well, but nothing will ring as true as genuine and heartfelt accountability.
  15. Keep records and learn and grow from all complaints. However, also track the customers who only complain when it comes to the time they need to pay. Too many discounts make a customer too expensive to keep.
  16. If you have any staff who might take calls from irate customers, ensure you have a robust policy not just for solving the issues but also to ensure your staff know the steps to take if a customer becomes personally abusive. No-one, yourself included, should be expected to put up with a personal attack. Always pull the customer up on it; give them warning that you will not put up with it. If they still continue, tell them that you are hanging up as warned but will ring them back in half an hour when they are calmer. Do exactly that, and then proceed to make them your best friend. Most people are embarrassed that they behaved so badly.

It is both understandable and healthy to fear losing any customer. In today’s market, the damage can reach a lot further than just that one. Bad reputations spread like wildfires, on social media and on review boards. However, losing a complaining customer is never very likely, providing you handle it properly. While there are one or two people who will, by nature, complain for the sake of it, the majority of complaining customers are, at heart, loyal customers who want to buy from you again.

So address your complaints fast and fully and remember that they can be a positive thing. According to the Institute of Customer Service, four out of five customers will spread the bad word if they feel they have had their complaint dealt with poorly. Conversely, customers who have received good service on a complaint are more likely to stay with you. Everyone recognizes that things go wrong occasionally and people look for suppliers they can trust to sort it out.

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