Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Silent Former Customer

This has been a hot topic in customer service for years - the silent customer who doesn't say anything when they leave for another company. I'm like that, except for when money is involved. Then I make sure I get back what's mine. But other than that, if I'm not happy with service and decide to take my business elsewhere, I usually don't say anything. Why not? Because I don't know that it will make a difference. This presents a problem for businesses because if they are bleeding customers and don't know why, they can't fix the problem.

It's important for businesses to approach this problem on several fronts:

1) Make sure your customers are happy and stay happy.
2) Provide a welcoming method by which customers can complain.

Of the 2, the second front is critical for businesses to be successful.

How can a company make sure they are one that welcomes customer complaints?

1) Training at all levels -- Even entry level, first-contact representatives need to know that it's okay (and even desirable) to let customers complain about the company and to empathize with the customer. Empathy is not an apology and an apology does not necessarily acknowledge responsibility. For example, at a funeral one often expresses condolences by saying something like "I'm sorry to hear about your loss." This doesn't mean that person is responsible for that person's death! In much the same way there's nothing wrong with a customer service rep saying something like, "I'm sorry to hear that you're so upset..." but what comes next is critical - a commitment to take action, such as "...let me see what we can do to resolve this situation."

Here is what I've told my trainees over the year...if you have an upset customer, take the HEAT:

Here them out
Take action

The "take action" can be something as simple as explaining pricing or policy, or as involved as opening up a formal investigation or complaint. Much of this is determined by the industry in which you serve but most companies have a formal complaint resolution process - if they don't, they should.

2) In fact, I think a company should have at least one person on staff who handles customer complaints. At my former employer, an insurance company, we had an entire department devoted to resolving customer complaints. As a result, the company was one of the highest rated insurers in terms of customer satisfaction. They later disbanded that department and now they are rated in just the middle of the pack.

So, in order to succeed, a customer needs to let the customers and first-contact employees know that it is okay to complain AND have a formal process in place by which to resolve the complaint. Transferring a customer to a first-line supervisor (or below) or worse - telling the customer that there are no other options to discuss a complaint - just doesn't cut it in today's world. There are just too many choices.

Tashi Delek!

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