Sunday, September 16, 2012

9 Steps To Handling A Customer Complaint

No matter how good a sales rep you are and how well you take care of your customers, at some point a customer will complain. Of course you need to respond quickly, but how exactly do you respond? Read on.

Taking A Customer Complaint1. Never argue with them. Encourage them to talk the entire problem out. Allow them to completely vent. Even if they become argumentative or caustic, don't argue with them.
2. Don't automatically admit fault. In many instances, it turns out to be the customer who was at fault (e.g. supplying you with incorrect directions).
3. Don't malign your coworkers or your suppliers. The customer doesn’t distinguish between them and you.
4. Show feeling, but stay objective. Caution: You will be caught off-guard when a customer calls to complain. It's easy to be sympathetic on the phone and believe that the fault is yours. Do not do this. There will be plenty of time to accept blame if it is yours to accept.
5. Don't attempt to solve the problem on this call. Tell them you will call them back within a stated period of time (certainly no longer than 5 business days) after you have done an exhaustive job of learning exactly why the problem occurred. The customer may attempt to discuss resolution for the error (e.g. “I want a $100 discount off my invoice.”). Try to understand their thinking behind why they want what they do, but promise nothing outside of calling them back within the stated period of time. Do not give them hope one way or another as to what the resolution will be. Assure them you are taking thorough notes and will research the problem and will get to the bottom of it.

After Taking The Complaint

1. Start your investigation immediately. This is a chance for you to turn a problem into a positive. If you resolve it quickly, the customer will in all likelihood be happy that you responded lightning-fast to their needs.
2. Communicate frequently. Make phone calls or send emails letting the customer know the progress you're making. (e.g. "I called our supplier just now and our Customer Service Rep is traveling but will be back in the office tomorrow. If she doesn't call me first thing, I have a note in my schedule to call her.") The key is to know your customer and get the appropriate emotional outcome. In rare instances, it will anger a customer to hear from you before you have discovered the cause. More often, they will feel taken care of by such calls.
3. If you conclude that your company was at fault -- even if the problem was only partially your company's fault -- determine how you will "make good" with your customer. You must know what the customer wants/values; there's nothing worse than offering a make good the customer doesn't value. That only exacerbates the problem. If you don't know what they want/value, plan a call to the customer to gain this information without misleading them into thinking they will get whatever they value as a make good. If they have this belief, they likely will ask for more than is necessary to make good for the problem. This call must be made ASAP to ensure quick resolution of the situation.
4. Inform and agree. The situation is not completely resolved until you inform all appropriate contacts at the customer of the cause of the problem and have agreed with them (and your supplier if appropriate) on an appropriate make good if necessary.

It's important to act with urgency and meet or beat your stated deadlines for resolving customer complaints. The urgency you act with is one giant aspect of how the customer perceives what level of importance your place on the problem and hence on their business. When you receive a customer complaint, act as if they are your only customer and get the situation resolved as fast as possible.

When you learn of a mistake before a customer, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking that the customer may not discover the problem and to not take action on it. Avoid that "sweep it under the rug" mindset. Instead contact the customer before they have a chance to contact you. This technique always, always, always works out in the sales rep's favor. Usually the customer is thrilled with the rep's forthrightness. They are used to suppliers hiding from the problem, not attacking it.

The Erie Sales Club is a joint effort of four leading local businesses: Jameson Publishing, Marsha Marsh Real Estate Services, VertMarkets, and Howland Peterson Consulting.