By Toshie Ito
With every customer complaint, there is usually an unseen problem: annoyance, inconvenience or extra spending that a customer had to experience because of an initial problem that occurred.
Initial problems could be, for example, buying a piece of merchandise from a store and it breaks on your first use, finding out two months later that you were charged twice for the same fee because an employee made a mistake when processing your payment information on a computer, and a reservation you made by phone is misplaced and it’s fully booked for that day, week or month. These situations are called incidents.
Most complaining customers are able to explain about the incidents — what has happened to them and what needs to be done to fix the situation. They may voice or indicate their frustration to give you the chance to rebuild the customer/business relationships.
But oftentimes, they hesitate to talk about the details of hidden problems they had to go through because they don’t want to leave an impression that they are aggressive, grumpy customers. So if they do not verbalize the details, we may assume that as long as we correct the situation, the complaining customers are reasonably satisfied and happy. But are they?
Just imagine what a customer with a broken piece of merchandise has to go through. A typical scenario may be that he has to locate a receipt in a trash bag full of garbage, leave home earlier in the morning to drive back to the store, explain to a salesperson what has happened, wait for a supervisor to show up, then wait for a refund procedure to be completed, etc.
After all that, it is most likely in this instance that the supervisor shrugs his shoulders and says to the customer, “Sorry about that.” The customer leaves the store, but he still needs to shop somewhere else to locate an item that he can depend on. The two trips he made to that store and the time he spent in the store and at home are completely wasted. These intangible losses are hardly compensated.
If he happened to be living in Santa Rita and the store location is in Tamuning, driving back to the store to get his money back would cause an extra expense of gas. That’s a customer’s tangible loss. Most customers accept these losses as part of life and move on. However, an unsatisfying feeling of not being fully compensated or acknowledged for his loss, inconvenience and unexpected expense remains in his mind. And that’s how the customer loses loyalty to that company and looks for other providers or to purchase online.
So what should you do to regain the customer’s loyalty and trust in this case? First, be a really good listener to help the customer feel comfortable to openly tell you every little detail of his saga including hidden problems and inconveniences.
Second, identify the customer’s losses and damages and verbally acknowledge them to empathize with the customer.
Third, offer a compensatory solution, such as a gift certificate or a discount coupon (increase the percentage), order a different item immediately and give a discount, deliver the shipment when it arrives, send him a free gas card as an apology, etc.
Fourth, treat the customer as your special customer from now on. Never label him as a complainer. It takes time for you to rebuild the damaged trust. Be patient. You may be able to keep that customer’s confidence in your business.
Now and then you may have to pay such price to regain a customer’s loyalty. The price may be small or great. But that’s part of business. If you want to succeed in building good customer relationships, be willing to go through the “ouch” moments, learn lessons from the experience, prevent recurrences, improve your product, procedure or service and create a solid reputation.
Do good and good will come back to you. But do it without any expectations at all if you truly want to focus on what you need to do today to take good care of your customers.
— Toshie Ito is the owner of Motiva Training & Consulting. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.