Most of us have a love/hate relationship with customer services. We frequently hear about poor customer service, especially from large organisations, but we rarely hear when a business gets it right.
Dealing with customers or clients is a challenge that faces most businesses, large and small, and is often considered to be one of the many joys of running your own empire.
On the face of it, it should be straightforward. On one side, we have a customer with a problem which needs to be resolved, and on the other, a business which should be able to rectify the situation without too much fuss. So what goes wrong? Unfortunately it is the human element which so often causes these situations to unravel.
What actually happens is this. The customer’s sense of injustice may range from feeling slightly concerned, to a full-scale melt down. Either way, their outburst will be handled by somebody whose instinct is to retaliate in the face of anger, especially if they feel the complaint is unjustified.
Now here’s the good news - dealing with an outraged customer is a skill and it can be learnt.
Firstly, allow the customer to express their views or concerns fully, no matter how outrageous or wrong they are. They will feel better having got it off their chest and it buys you a few valuable minutes to think about your next step. By allowing them to have their say, you are demonstrating your willingness to listen and this will minimise any sense of direct confrontation.
Now engage and show some empathy. The words “I am sorry this has happened” or “I am sorry you are upset” will help to calm the situation without acknowledging your blame, or lack of it. Your next words should be about diffusing the situation: “Can I go over this again to make sure I have got it right, so that I can help you?” Then calmly, without any prejudice, simply state the facts as you see them, keeping in mind that your perception of the situation may be totally different to that of the client. Remember - what you are trying to do at this stage is to understand the exact nature of the problem. Repeating the facts back to the client encourages them to acknowledge the real issue, without the all the irrelevant views and opinions. It is amazing how many times the process of restating the complaint will crystallise in the customer’s mind what exactly is required.
By now you should have gained an understanding of the client’s perspective and have a good idea as to what is required. If the solution is within your power, offer this as the answer, then ask if that is acceptable and perhaps discuss a timescale.
If you have to defer to another decision maker, then explain what you are going to do and ask for a convenient time to call back. The biggest mistake you can make at this time is not to act on your offer or not to ring back as promised. Even if the problem is not resolved at the time you have scheduled the call, you must still follow through as arranged and provide an update and explanation.
Some of you may be saying “What if the customer is wrong and we are blameless?” Well, unless the customer is deliberately trying to deceive you, it’s best to apply the old saying that the customer is always right. They may be the most unreasonable, cantankerous person in the world but they are your customer. Find out what will make them happy and if it is reasonable, and within your power, fulfil that requirement. You can roar with exasperation in private.
Happy customers return, even the stroppy ones. Unhappy customers fade away but not before they have spread their negative views.
It is possible to turn a disgruntled customer into a happy one. I didn’t say it was easy!