If you read my last article, you learned that proactive listening is one of the best ways to prevent negative experiences for your customers. (If you didn’t, you really should. Check it out here.) But what happens if you already have a dissatisfied customer? Research shows that 82% of customers who voice their issues and get them resolved quickly return for repeat business. (TARP, Technical Assistance Research Programs, Inc.)
That’s what you want, right? Of course, what you really want is only positive experiences for your customers. But that’s simply not going to happen, no matter how good you are. When a mishap occurs, your goal must be to resolve the issue, and, more importantly, resolve it as promptly as possible.
The first step is to understand the emotions your customer is feeling. Here, we’ll examine those emotions as well as our best practices for responding to them.
Emotion #1: I need to be taken seriously
Approach your communication from your customer’s point of view. You can begin to understand their needs by asking open-ended questions, like:
- What would you like to accomplish?
- How would you like me to work with you?
- How can we be of greatest help to you?
- What is your timeline for resolution?
Emotion #2: I need to be treated with respect
Be respectful by letting your customer voice their entire complaint.
- Resist labeling, like “Customer from hell” and, instead, view them as a “Customer who’s been through hell.”
- Go beyond “The Golden Rule” by practicing “The Platinum Rule,” which recommends you treat others (in this case, your customers) not as YOU want to be treated, but as THEY want to be treated. Or better yet, "The Double Platinum Rule," by treating "others the way they don’t even know they want to be treated."
- Look for ways that the customer can save face.
- Avoid using humor when a customer is angry. Realize where their anger is coming from. Is it because their expectation does not match reality? Are they afraid, frustrated, confused, or worried? It’s your job to find out.
"Resist labeling, like Customer from hell and, instead, view them as a Customer who’s been THROUGH hell.”
Emotion #3: I need someone to take immediate action
Be responsive. Remember that the more quickly you can resolve a customer’s issue, the more likely you are to save the relationship.
- Demonstrate a sense of urgency.
- Recommend an action plan or offer viable options.
- Return customer telephone calls, texts, and emails immediately, even if you have bad news or no new information.
- Provide constant updates.
Emotion #4: I need compensation or restitution
Treat the customer fairly and don’t waste time figuring out who is right and who is wrong.
- Seek a win-win solution.
- Be flexible, by offering more than one outcome (three is the sweet spot). Customers want options and choices—and the opportunity to decide what’s best for them, not what you think is best.
Emotion #5: I need someone to be responsible
Own the problem. Take responsibility for yourself, others, and your company, but don’t cast blame.
- Show empathy by acknowledging the effect on the customer.
- State that you have identified the problem.
- Do not blame computers (customers hate this). Instead, use statements like: “The information is not available just now” or “The system is busy (or updating) now.”
- When referring to someone in another department, introduce the person’s title, specific responsibility, and authority to handle the problem. And, allow the customer to contact you again if your referral is unsuccessful.
Emotion #6: I need the problem corrected now (and in the future)
Quickly fix the problem and examine the process for flaws.
- Address the issue directly and identify how you intend to fix it to prevent future issues—not only for the current customer, but for all customers.
- Read our expert advice on quick conflict resolution in this article.
- Define what you can do instead of what you can’t do. Don’t say: “It’s not my job” or “I can’t …” Do say: “I can certainly get my manager to help us with this problem”
Emotion #7: I need to be heard
Listen and welcome negative feedback.
- Invite complaints— they are your best learning opportunities.
- Follow these tips to improve your listening skills:
- If in person, look at the customer when they are talking.
- Verify what you heard by repeating it back to the customer: “What I hear you saying is…”
- Take detailed notes. You may need to refer to them later.
- Withhold judgement and comments until the customer is finished speaking and the issue has been analyzed.
Emotion #8: I need empathy
Don't question or try to interpret the customer's motives.
- Don’t tell customers why they are dissatisfied or unhappy (good advice for your home life too).
- Don’t put the customer in a defensive position by stating absolutes or catastrophizing the situation.
- Keep it impersonal by addressing the issues, not their actions.
The next time you need to respond to a customer complaint, remember what you’ve learned here. And, if you’re ready to take your customer service to the next level, contact our experts at kreativeMotive today. We can help!
About the Authors:
Jeremy Jones is the founder and CEO of kreativeMotive, a market research firm specializing in Customer Satisfaction, Employee Engagement, and Service Design. His experience is built on 20 years in product management, business development, and customer analysis, giving him a unique insight into feedback-driven data. Allison Bannister is a freelance writer with 15 years of experience in the areas of technical, marketing, proposal, and content writing. She worked for eight of those years in the field of employee recognition, spending countless hours researching and writing about engagement strategies and solutions to workplace issues.