You want great referrals, but you’re not sure what to do. So why not start with the number one issue — are your customers happy? We talk a lot here about satisfying your customers by finding out what you are doing right and then doing more of it. But today I’m taking a different approach. Since researchers have discovered that customers that have had problems successfully resolved often become our most loyal fans, we’re going to look at that “flip side” today.
The old saying is, “Everybody makes mistakes, but how you handle them makes for either happy customers or no business.” How do you handle any conflicts with customers?
Start by taking inventory of instances where things didn’t go well. Nobody likes poor service, which is why it’s imperative that you take every possible step to avoid customer complaints. But when there are complaints, how can you make your customer complaint procedure work well? Start by avoiding these seven mistakes:
Mistake No. 1: Not having a customer complaint procedure. Whenever there is a complaint, don’t put your company’s reputation — and your chance of getting good referrals — in jeopardy by not having a written procedure which has been used to train your customer service people. Think of it as risk management.
Make sure that everyone knows what you expect your customer service to do to resolve complaints, even with difficult customers. The process will make it less likely that customers will be totally unhappy. Kindly and competently explaining the process to even a difficult customer means that there will be a good chance of a successful resolution. The customer will know their responsibilities as well yours.
Mistake No. 2: Paring down the customer service department in the name of “saving money.” Having too few customer service agents means that many complaints may not get a fair hearing and may not be resolved. Unresolved customer complaints mean no referrals and worse, negative word of mouth! Customer service is your insurance policy to keep customers happy so they will give you referrals.
Would you go without liability insurance or business interruption insurance? Then why would you forget to have customer happiness insurance?
Mistake No. 3: Losing touch with how your customer service functions. Take the time to examine your company correspondence files and service department records. This will reveal the current customer attitude toward your organization. Complaints will probably highlight principal problem areas. In fact, if you analyze those records regularly, you may find that some of the complaints you’re receiving are actually doing your firm a favor, pointing out areas that need improvement now.
Mistake No. 4: Neglecting your customer service people. If they know that you care about them and how they treat customers, they can become your biggest source of referrals. Consider what would happen if a customer service person successfully resolves a problem, asks a now-happy customer for a referral and gets rewarded for each referral they get.
Mistake No. 5: Believing that out of sight is out of mind. Establish a customer complaint procedure of checking back with the customer 30 or 60 days after a complaint, asking how the customer felt the service was provided, and if you can be of further assistance. That’s not just fixing the problem, that’s making sure the relationship stays fixed.
Mistake No. 6: Taking short cuts. If you have a written procedure to deal with customer complaints, stick with it. Customers will get used to the fact that you have an organized approach and give them a fair chance to state their case. But whatever you do never quote “Policy” to customers — it only makes them madder!
Mistake No. 7: Letting complaints linger. You’d be surprised by how fast and courteous attention can defuse most of the complaints before they become major problems. All a customer who is complaining wants to know is that someone cares and that you will respond as close to instantly as possible. Even if you had a problem, speedy resolution means that your company spent a few minutes solving that customer’s problems. But since you are quick, he or she will actually want to talk up your operation and your ability to stand behind your product or service.
Ninety-five percent of customers whose complaints are handled on the spot will come back again and buy. In fact, they become your most loyal customers. Why? Because they trust that you will do right by them when there is problem, and you have proven it to them. This is what makes them likely to refer you.
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JoAnna Brandi is a customer care expert. She is the author of several books and the publisher of “The Customer Care Coach,” a leadership training course. JoAnna is not a Pitney Bowes employee and shares her insights on this blog as a paid contributor.