It's that time of year. I am having far greater interaction with a whole host of vendors, suppliers and merchants, as I prepare for Christmas and the New Year festivities, and to say my experiences have been exasperating would be a gross understatement. Does anybody care anymore? In their frenzied, frantic, and relentless pursuit of new business, companies are leaving their existing customers behind, discarded like used tissues, to fend for themselves.
These are the same customers who were once prospects themselves, and who were converted at considerable cost and investment of time and resource. It seems to me that these days the "Customer is King" commercial philosophy of years gone by has been replaced by the "Customer is a Nuisance" mentality.
As a consequence, you will not be surprised to learn that customer complaints and general dissatisfaction are at an all time high. It is not just the quality of the goods or service that are wanting, it is vendor's ability to deal with the expectation gap which has been created.
The reality is that the focus of all modern management thinking, and strategic business practice, has to be the customer. Keep your customers happy and your sales will continue to soar - neglect them, or take them for granted, and your bottom line will suffer accordingly.
To respond to a customer who has a legitimate complaint you must, in my opinion, keep these six rules firmly in mind.
Listen with understanding and sympathy - This diffuses anger and demonstrates your concern. Tell the customer something such as "I am sorry you have been inconvenienced. Tell me what happened, so that I can help you." It is vital to show a sincere interest and willingness to help. The customer's first impression of you is all important in gaining co-operation.
No matter what or who caused the problem, never ever blame or make excuses. Instead, take full responsibility and the initiative to do whatever you can to solve the problem as quickly as possible.
Paraphrase and record what the customer tells you. Whenever you hear an important point say "let me make sure I understand; you were promised delivery on the 10th and you did not receive the product until the 1st of the following month. Is that correct?"
Find out what the customer wants. Do they want a refund, credit, discount or replacement? The customer is complaining because he/she has a problem and wants it solved as quickly as possible. Find out what their problem is so you can work towards it - and not towards a solution they do not want.
Propose a solution and gain the customer's support. When the customer tells you what he or she wants, the solution is usually obvious. State your solution in a positive manner. "I will be happy to give you a full credit for it or other merchandise. Is that acceptable for you?" If it is acceptable, act promptly.
If the customer does not like your solution, ask what they would consider a fair alternative. Never let a customer lose face. If you cannot meet their request, say so, but never say they are wrong, and never get into an argument with a customer. It is vital to be considerate of the customer's feelings and to be courteous. Sometimes the customer knows full well that there is nothing you can do. All the customer really wants is someone to hear and respect his or her point of view, and you can always give them that.
Do remember that a customer's loyalty is only as strong as the success of their last contact with you, and by transforming an unhappy customer into a satisfied one, you have proved that you value their custom - and this may well lead to a strengthened relationship and repeat business.
If you want to experience consistently excellent service - service like it used to be, and still should be - go buy something from Johnnie Boden. Don't take my word for it, try them for yourselves, you will be truly stunned that any company could be so good.
Latest News: I'll have a couple of guest posts over the w/e, and of course an update on the most significant online sales event of the year - 2010 Top Sales Awards - voting is getting very "aggressive" and it is going to be very exciting next week - have you voted today?