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Thursday, December 8, 2011

No Apologies

In our business life, we all try hard to give our customers the best possible experience with our products and services. Inevitably the experience will not be positive for everyone and you will have deal with a customer complaint.

When faced with a complaint, our first reaction is to admit guilt; don’t. Have a strategy for dealing with apology-inducing situations and choose your words carefully.

Here are some tips for your apology strategy that can help you address the situation to the satisfaction of your customer. NOTE: in some  situations, the way you handle a complaint/problem avoid a lawsuit.
1.      Focus on the Solution
As customer-focused businesspeople who have been trained that “the customer is always right” our initial instinct is to almost immediately apologize to a complaining customer.

Instead of apologizing, focus on the issue and set to work finding a solution to the problem. Avoid statements like, “something was done wrong” or “I made a mistake” in favor of, “How do we address this situation?”

2.      Empathize
“I understand how you are feeling” is a better starting point than “I’m sorry.” The customer wants to know that s/he is being heard and that the situation is being addressed to their satisfaction.

In a situation where there might be legal ramifications, you can be empathetic and helpful without admitting guilt. For example, “I’m sorry to see that you got injured” is a better approach than saying, “This is our fault.”

3.      Avoid Confrontation
The way you communicate with complaining customer is key to getting the best result from the situation. Keep your tone customer-service oriented and positive. A confrontational approach typically results in a negative reaction. If you can make the customer feel better about the situation and demonstrate that you are trying to help them, you can lower the chance of getting a negative reaction or of escalating the situation in a negative direction.

4.      Learn What the Customer Expects
The customer typically has an idea in their mind about what would properly address the situation. And more often than not, it is a reasonable expectation. Quickly determine what they feel is a fair solution that will keep them satisfied, preserve the relationship with you/your business and will set the stage for future business. If their expectations are reasonable and within your power, make it happen.

A customer that has to jump through hoops to get what they feel is a fair outcome will not be happy and will most likely avoid purchasing your product/service in the future. On the other hand, a customer that feels that your organization was responsive to their needs and quickly addressed and satisfied their needs in a professional manner, will be more likely to continue being a customer.

5.      Find and Fix the Cause
Once you have addressed the complaint and have a final outcome to the situation (hopefully positive), analyze the cause of the complaint and take steps within your organization to insure that it doesn’t happen again to another customer (or worse the same customer. In some cases, it can be a positive reinforcement to demonstrate the steps that have been taken to address the problem to the customer with the original complaint.
Mistakes are made that lead customer complaints. It’s part of business. Handle these situations properly and you will turn an unhappy customer into an advocate for your business. Handle them improperly and you will lose customers and damage your reputation.

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