Jack Mitchell, author of the book Hug Your Customers, explains that what most people refer to as complaints, he likes to think of as challenges. Customer retention is an integral part of customer service. After all, the number one way to grow your business is simply to keep your current customers. Thinking of resolving challenges rather than complaints can help you maintain the right mindset to make your customers happy. While things may function properly most of the time, there will always be those instances when there is a service gap between what was expected and what actually happened. Following are seven steps for effective customer challenge resolution.
1. Attentively listen to understand what the challenge is. Listen to why they are upset. Let them talk and get the whole thing out. Don’t interrupt them. Don’t argue with them. Don’t raise your voice. Don’t stop smiling.If necessary ask questions to help clarify the customer’s concern. Seek to understand the situation and what went wrong. Why is the guest dissatisfied? What expectation didn’t get met? What can you do to fix the problem? Remember that any concern, no matter how great or small it may seem, is a big deal if it matters to your guest. Once you understand the problem, simply apologize.
2. Apologize for the specific challenge and Accept responsibility for it. Look at things from their perspective. Understand why they are upset and be upset with them. Most importantly, apologize for the error. Show the guest that you are sorry and that you really care about their challenge. Be specific about what you are apologizing for. “Sorry for the inconvenience,” doesn’t cut it. You need to say, “I’m sorry that your order was made incorrectly,” or “I’m sorry about the miscommunication as to which materials were to be shipped.”
Let the customer know that you are accepting responsibility for the problem. Don’t push the problem onto someone else, or blame a co-worker. Some of the worst things you can say are phrases like, “It’s our kitchen guy’s fault, he can’t do anything right,” or “It’s our cashier’s first day,” or “The tech guy was supposed to fix this last week!” These excuses are unacceptable. You are making your team look bad, and you look even worse speaking about them in a negative way. Besides that, the customer doesn’t really care whose fault it is, they just want it fixed. Accept responsibility for the issue as if it were your fault, even if it wasn’t, and then fix it.
To the customer, you ARE the company.
3. Ask what can be done to fix the problem, and then Act to fix it. All employees should have the power and ability to do whatever is necessary to resolve a customer challenge. Allowing front line employees to be empowered makes things easier for the guest and the employee. It saves time and it is more efficient. The customer doesn’t have to tell the story four times over to various managers, and a front line employee can find a time-sensitive solution. The best way to know how to resolve a challenge is simply to ask your customer what you can do to fix it. Will a few people try to take advantage of you? Probably, but the majority will ask for an honest and fair resolution, so give it to them. It’s not worth losing money from the honest people to catch a few who may be lying to you.
Act immediately to resolve the challenge. Maintain a positive attitude. Don’t go around the corner and complain about them. Remember they are the reason you have a job! Stay happy, friendly, and energetic through the whole process. If you are happy and make the situation light-hearted, they will almost always follow suit. Unfortunately some people are just having a bad day and they will take it out on you. Don’t let a bad experience or an angry customer get you down. Think of it as an experience that you can learn from and offer better service in the future. Regardless of the situation, thank them for making you aware.
4. Appreciate the guest bringing the issue to your attention. A great way to really wow your customer is to thank them for informing you of the situation. Thank them for offering you an opportunity to fix it. This is how you let them know that you are serious about keeping their business. For every guest who complains, there are usually several who had the same issue but said nothing. Many customers will show how they feel with economic criticism. This is where they don’t say anything, and just go to a competitor next time. Next, you will want to make a record of the transaction, service gap, and what means were taken to create resolution for the customer.
5. Archive or document the challenge to avoid future problems and track possible recurring incidents. This will help you see trends in where service is lacking, prevent it from happening to other guests, and allow you to evaluate if the challenge has really been resolved. If you continue to see the same challenge recurring, then you may need to evaluate your training, processes, or systems to see what may be causing the gap in your customer service.
6. Afterward, follow up with the guest to ensure satisfaction. At an appropriate moment after the challenge has been resolved, follow up with the guest. Ask how the resolution is working for them. Let them know that you sincerely care and are willing to do anything else necessary to ensure that the challenge is completely resolved and any errors have been corrected.
7. Always put yourself in their shoes and treat them as you would like to be treated. Your customers are your most valuable asset. I once heard a quote that says, “A satisfied guest will tell five people about their experience, a dissatisfied guest will tell anyone who will listen.” Also consider the behavioral science aspect of the situation working against you. Robert D. Dewar, a professor of Organizational Behavior at Northwestern University explains what he calls The Law of Bad News...
"Stories about your service failures get juicier and worse every time they are told. You can never win a storytelling contest with a customer."
THE BIG REVEAL
According to T. Scott Gross, almost seventeen percent of customers will change providers after only one instance of poor service if it is not resolved to their standard. This number increases to almost fifty-eight percent after a second instance of poor service. The opportunity to resolve a challenge is a special gift your customer has offered you. However, one more chance may be all that you get before they switch providers. Attentively listen, apologize, ask, appreciate, archive, afterward follow up, and always understand the situation from your customers’ perspective. These tips will help you create the best solution to ensure customer loyalty. Additionally, the only tales getting extra juicy will be about your ability to deliver excellent customer service resolution.