Management - Turn That Frown Upside Down

Tips For Turning An Unsatisfied Customer Into A Gratified One

Customer FeedbackDon't let customer dissatisfaction fool you. An angry, jaded or otherwise upset client is one of the biggest opportunities that will ever come your way, according to Bill Hogg, founder of consulting firm Bill Hogg & Associates. "Research tells us that a dissatisfied customer that you do a strong recovery on turns into a more loyal customer than somebody who's just satisfied," he says.

Here's how you can quickly turn a disgruntled customer into a happy, loyal one.

Hear Them Out
Regardless of how angry or irrational he or she may seem, if a customer calls with a complaint, Hogg says you're just going to have to take it.

"The first thing is you've got to listen," he says. "They may very well be ranting or become overly emotional, and they may not even have all their facts correct, but you have to just sit back and listen, and allow them to let off that steam and vent."

John Tschohl, author of Loyal for Life: How to Take Unhappy Customers from Hell to Heaven in 60 Seconds or Less, says fault really doesn't matter, and when it comes to customer service, perception is reality. "Remember: Your company made the mistake, or the perception is you made the mistake. You're guilty. Now's the time to fess up," he says. "Just say, ‘We made the mistake, it's our fault.' Don't say, ‘Charlie in shipping really screwed this up.' Say, ‘It sounds to me like we really screwed up. I apologize.'"

Case StudyIn these situations, Hogg says the word "can't" shouldn't ever come up in the conversation. "Don't talk about what you can't do; talk about what you can do," he says. "So, if they say, 'I want you to give me my order for free,' you're not going to say, ‘I can't do that.' What you're going to say is, ‘Well, what we can do is this,' or, 'Here's what I can do for you' – something that gets you moving toward something positive."

What Will Satisfy the Customer?
Hogg says it's crucial to compensate the customer with something on which he or she places a high value – and the only way to do that is to probe.

"I would never offer anything until I give them the opportunity to tell me what it is they want. I would always listen first," he says. "Not everybody values the same things, so be mindful. You need to be clear on what it is you're giving your customer."

Giving away a freebie is OK as long as it's something that will make the customer happy, according to Hogg. "You need to make sure you're offering stuff that is of real value to the customer," he says. "That's a very important element of customer service."

Pre-Plan With Employees
According to Renée Evenson, business consultant and author of the upcoming book, Powerful Phrases for Effective Customer Service, any employee who might answer the phone at any given time at your company must know what he or she is allowed to give away to an unhappy customer so the call doesn't escalate.

"You don't want them to have a dissatisfied customer at the end of the conversation and have to turn that over to a manager," she says. "If there are set guidelines in place on the compensation to be offered, it gives employees more confidence to deal with the customers, and the customers will see that or hear that in their voices."

Tschohl says the reparation should be an item of low cost and high value to the customer, and the person who picks up the phone must be authorized to offer this to the client without having to check with the boss.

"There are all sorts of products or services that have high value and low cost that you can give away to make customers happy on the spot, so that's what you're looking for," he says. "I think you should have 10 different things in your arsenal that have high value and low cost. The objective is for the employee to be generous."

On a recent business trip, Tschohl recalls sitting for over five minutes in a restaurant without being served, for which the waiter apologized and sought to make it up for him. "He said, ‘Why don't you have a drink on us?' So, I ordered a soft drink. And I went back there two more times in the three days I was there," he says.

Tschohl placed a high value on a drink that cost the restaurant practically nothing. "What's the cost of a soft drink for the restaurant? Twenty cents?" he says. "Every company has things of high value and low cost, and you want the employee to offer it instantly. All this has to happen in 60 seconds. If you have 60 employees, you want all 60 trained on service recovery, and it would benefit you if you can identify the 10 different things of high value you can give away when something goes bad. Every time you give the customer to someone else, you increase your cost."

Speed is the key here, as Tschohl says it's crucial for the employee to move quickly in order to turn the situation around. "You've got to make fast decisions right there on the spot," he says. "It can't fester. The person shouldn't have to call back. You shouldn't have to talk to a supervisor or manager. You just want the employee who picks up the phone or handles the e-mail to say, ‘I apologize. It's our fault. Let me tell you what I'm going to do because it was our mistake.' "

Do What You Say You Will
If you do run across a situation that an employee simply can't solve right away, Hogg says that you must promise to respond to the customer within a specified time frame, and you must be true to your word.

"If you say, 'Let me get back to you by Wednesday,' and you don't get back to them by Wednesday, your excuse can't be, ‘Well, I didn't have an answer by then.' If you commit to something, fulfill that commitment," he says. "There's nothing worse than saying, ‘Let me get back to you,' and then not getting back to them in a timely manner."

Of course, once a fire is extinguished, it's vital for a company to check back in with the client, Evenson says.

"Always follow up," she says. "That leaves a lasting positive impression in a customer's mind, and your customers are your best marketing tools. Let's face it – they're going to talk and tell people about their interactions with your company, and you want what they say to be positive. And leaving that lasting impression in the customer's mind and taking the time to follow up will develop them into a loyal customer."

This step is key because even though you think you made a situation right and corrected the original concern, you want to know that a client is completely satisfied with how everything was handled. Follow up to find out if there's anything further your company can do for the client.

Ask For a Testimonial
Unsatisfied clients who transform into satisfied ones can become your biggest advocates. "When a customer has a problem or complaint," Tschohl says, "it's your opportunity to solve it, and these customers become far more loyal."

As such, Evenson says business owners shouldn't be afraid to approach those converted clients with a praise request. "Customer testimonials are so important, especially now with social media," she says. "People are taking to social media sites to do their complaining and often complimenting, too, because it's a lot easier to compliment on a social media site where it's kind of anonymous and you can do it quickly. If you've turned your customer around and know that customer's happy, ask for testimonials either to add to your website or to add to your social networking pages."