We’re moving fast, checking lots of lists, and filling out forms like focused machines here at Team Sudan. Once April hit, it seems that many of our clients FINALLY remembered this “tax deadline” thing? It’s real, and it’s here.
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When things are moving so quickly, it can be easy to set aside the problems and just focus on moving forward. I can understand this impulse, but after years of operating a service business, I have found a great process to go through with clients who are upset.
What I like about it is that it isn’t some smarmy technique to just de-escalate and ignore, but, in fact, enables me and my team to handle the inevitable miscommunications and misplaced expectations, and do so with grace.
Here’s the thing about upset customers or clients: Handle them correctly and you’ll look like a hero.
But mess it up, and there is a good chance that customer is out the door and on the phone (or worse, online) squawking to everyone they know about what a terrible business you run.
So … let’s do this well, shall we?
Four Steps For Responding To Customer Complaints With Grace By Bharti I. Sudan
“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.” -Lyndon B. Johnson
In his book, How To Win Customers And Keep Them For Life, Michael LeBoeuf cites some powerful statistics…
- 96% of people who experience a problem with a small ticket item or service, do not complain.
This means that for every person who complains, 24 feel the same but do not say anything.
- 91% of those people who do not complain, do not do business with that company again
When someone complains, they are giving you a wonderful gift. They are giving you an opportunity to make right whatever is wrong.
Per LeBoeuf (and my own experience), there are four primary things that we can all do with upset customers, and these are things that go beyond mere words (but they do include words)…
Step One: Say, “Thank you.”
By thanking them for bringing the problem to your attention you are signaling your willingness to listen. You’re also diffusing a lot of the anxious energy people bring when they come with a complaint. They’re probably prepared for a confrontation and a genuine, “Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention!” takes a lot of the wind out of that sail.
Even if you disagree with your customer, you can still be grateful that they told you about the problem.
Remember that their complaint is a gift, and treat it as one.
Step Two: Ask lots of questions, and LISTEN.
Their lips may be saying, “The color is wrong,” when they are really saying, “It makes me look fat.” Don’t make judgments, don’t jump to conclusions, just keep the conversation going until you feel confident you’ve uncovered the real reason for the customer complaints.
I know, I know … some people are hard to read, they tell you lies, or they are just being a pain in the back side.
Do your best to understand their real problem.
Step Three: Be empathetic.
Acknowledge how they feel. Apologize, if it’s appropriate. People can tell if you are trying to understand, or just pretending to understand.
Be on your customer’s side, even if you think they are the cause of the problem.
If you get into an argument with your customer, you lose. You might win the argument, but you’ll lose the customer.
Step Four: Actually SOLVE the problem.
A simple and sincere, “What would you like me to do?” is the best way I know to handle it. Experience has shown me that if you give your customers the power to pick a solution they will almost always be reasonable.
Of course, there may be an occasional knucklehead who will make a crazy request, but deal with these situations on an individual basis.
As a rule, give your customers the benefit of the doubt. They’re not taking advantage of you, they are giving you a gift!
One final statistic…
“A customer that has their problems satisfactorily solved will provide 3 times the revenue of a customer that has never had a problem.”
Empower your staff to make things right. They may occasionally make a mistake, but the benefits of amazing service will far outweigh the occasional misstep.
Bharti I. Sudan
Bharti Sudan CPA Inc.
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