With a long career in appliance sales and management, I’ve frequently heard the old adage, “The customer is always right.” My common reply has always been that the customer is NOT always right, but the customer is always the customer. That gets at the core of the problem. Though customers may get difficult from time to time they ARE customers, and we need to treat them accordingly.
Treating a customer properly means being respectful and polite, but it doesn’t mean the customer always gets his or her way. Here are three guidelines for dealing with customer complaints.
Hear the customer out. I’ve had customers talk themselves out of their complaint without me saying a word. They just wanted to vent. Be willing to let somebody blow off some steam. When they finish, it’s a good idea to confirm that they are done by asking, “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”
Acknowledge the customer’s viewpoint. If you’re on the phone, they can’t see you nod your head, so a lot of “I understand” or “I see what you mean” helps. You don’t need to agree in order to express understanding, but you should avoid arguing.
Ask the customer what they’d like to have happen as a result of their complaint. I have lots of experience solving complaints referred to me by salespeople who never even bothered to ask the customer what they wanted. Maybe all they want is an apology for their perceived mistreatment. Whatever the request, if it is reasonable and doable confirm by saying, “You are requesting ABC, if we could do ABC would that solve this problem to your satisfaction?” This way they can’t later start in with, “And one more thing.” Even if they want something from you that you can’t do at least you’ve got a specific basis for negotiation.
If you can’t meet their request, politely ask the customer if there is something else you could do that might help. You’re starting a search for mutually acceptable alternatives. If you can’t eventually get an answer from the customer that works for both of you, suggest your own solutions. “Since we can’t return this product as you’re requesting, what if I ask the supplier to ship out a replacement part? Then your product would be like new. That would work for you, wouldn’t it?”
When nothing seemed to work, I might say something like this. “I think you have two problems, not one. You have a product that doesn’t meet your expectations. If I could remove it and refund your money (which I can’t), that would solve one problem, and leave another. You’d still be without the product that you need. The best solution is to get your product working to your satisfaction, and I can help you with that.”
In the end, there will always be that customer who just can’t be satisfied no matter how hard you try. For them, you might simply ask if they want to burn you at the stake or if a simple public hanging will suffice. Seriously, finish by apologizing that you were unable to solve the problem to their satisfaction and a polite goodbye.
Art Johnson MBA, is a writer, speaker, trainer and social media marketing professional with broad experience in the appliance industry. Art may be reached at Johnson.firstname.lastname@example.org