Make complainers your favorite customers

August 1, 1998

Pharmaceutical Representative

Three things you don't know about handling complaints.

There are three things you don't know about handling complaints.

First, customers usually want less than you think.

Second, customers who have never had a problem are not as loyal as customers who have had a problem that was successfully resolved.

Third, customers who take the time to complain want to make things better.

Look closely at these three points. If you have a policy to do whatever it takes to make things right when things go wrong, asking the customer what it is that would make things right yields surprising results. They ask for less than you would have settled for after a negotiation.

Customers who have never had a problem are not as loyal as customers who have had a problem that was successfully resolved. Did you get that? Read it again to be sure! This is so powerful that it's almost worth screwing things up just so you can fix them!

Think about it. If you always deliver on your service promise, how will the customer know that you are not just consistent? How will the customer discover that you are insistent that the customer's needs be fully and fairly met? You have to have a screw-up so you can fix it, demonstrating your sincerity about delivering a quality product and service.

The question is, "If this is so obvious, why are so many customer complaints poorly handled?"

The answer is fear. Fear that the customer is trying to rip you off. Fear that someone will have to take the blame and that someone might be you.

Employees often think that their job is to protect the company from the customer. Plus, they often believe that complaints are a sign of failure rather than an opportunity to grow.

And none of this will change unless it is both communicated and demonstrated by top management. Who would risk stepping out of the box to resolve a customer complaint if they thought that doing so would get them zapped?

Four steps to service recovery

Surprise! If serving the customer is nothing more than solving a problem, it stands to reason that handling a complaint involves the same basic steps of sales and service. Complaint resolution is a matter of the following:

Establish rapport. Let the customer know up front that you are on their side.

Discover the problem. Ask the customer to describe the problem exactly.

Offer a complete solution. Ask the customer what they think is the right solution. Agree, and then up the ante to prove that you are serious.

Cement the relationship. Apologize again, and tell the customer what will be done to prevent a recurrence.

If you need a simpler rule for complaints, let it be this: Do whatever it takes to make things right when things go wrong - no matter what.

A customer with a complaint is asking you to help them remain a customer. Complainers are your most loyal customers. They want to continue doing business with you. If they didn't, they would walk across the street and be done with you. Customers who complain are giving you a chance to set things right. Don't blow it.

Complaints are opportunities that you probably haven't seen. If you saw them and failed to act, you don't deserve to have customers who are nice enough to volunteer their help.

Complainers are friends. Just try to keep your list of this kind of friend as short as possible. PR

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