Let's face it, mistakes happen. Even the best intentioned people make mistakes, and companies with 5-star customer service ratings every once in a while let down their clients. So, if reality hits and you are at the business end of a problem, what are you going to do about it? Whether small or large, chances are good your company has policies in place, or better yet, a system, to handle a customer with a problem. Regardless, see how your problem resolution criteria stack up to the list below.
If you don't have anything in place to help a customer with an issue, now is a great time to create a problem resolution system. Remember, however, resolving the problem is only one third of the equation. Your goal should be: One, keep a customer once the problem is resolved. Two, exceed customer expectations in the process of resolving the problem. Three, resolve the problem.
So "P" day arrives and, "Houston, we have a Problem," is staring you square in the eyes with a capital "P." Before I give you the steps to resolve the problem, let's get you in the proper frame of mind, which is, customer perception is reality. I would advise you to put aside whatever the "truth" is for now and know that your customer legitimately feels a problem has surfaced. Whether or not you or your company are at fault, this is now your problem, so let's go ahead and get this problem resolved.
- Apologize - I'm not talking about an air kiss "I'm sorry," but instead, a heartfelt, really sorry the problem occurred apology. Since this is the first you are hearing of the problem, you better be genuine about your apology. Your customer is sizing you up and he wants to feel that you feel the pain as well.
- Perspective - Walk a mile in your customer's shoes. Not only does your customer want you to hear what he is saying, he wants you to empathize with the words coming from his mouth. If you are in the wedding cake business and your delivery was late, do you think that your customer cares the reason the cake was late was because your van got stuck in traffic, got a flat tire, missed the exit or had to detour due to road construction? Imagine, if that was your baby girl getting married, would you want to hear an excuse due to a flat tire? Heck no.
- Be responsible - Don't pass the buck. You are on the line and on the hook. Now, what are you going to do? I'll tell you what you are going to do, be responsible. Here is your chance to really shine. Step up, step out, take the problem and run with it. Feel empowered and energized. Your customer needs you and the bottom line is this, you need your customer too. Without customers, your business goes away.
- Stay calm and cool - Your customer may sound frustrated, angry and out of control. And he may have every right to be, but you need to stay calm. There is absolutely nothing good that will come out of you losing your cool. I always tell my staff to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. Getting into a shouting match with your customer will make you a part of the problem. Don't go there. Although you may have an desire to go on the defensive, now is not the time to defend your company policy or to cite a term on the contract. I one time had a credit card customer service rep quote directly from the credit card agreement I signed 6 years earlier. Who wins in an argument like that one?
- Investigate and document - In some situations, you will not be able to resolve the problem with the client immediately. In cases like these, inform your customer of the steps you are going to take and set proper expectations. "Mr. Jones, here is what I am going to do from the time we hang up until I call you back. I am going to reach out to my staff, find out why the problem occured, talk to the my management team and get back to you before close of business today. I have taken notes about the problem you had and we are going to do everything humanly possible to get this resolved quickly. Does this plan sound ok to you Mr. Jones? Again, I feel terrible this happened. I will work to get this resolved quickly."
- Resolve quickly - Problem clients should be top on your priority list. Statistically, a dissatisfied customer tells 9-15 people about their problem if the problem is not resolved. But a happy client who gets their problem resolved quickly will cut that number in half. Better yet, resolve the problem immediately and you will potentially have an advocate for your company in spite of the problem.
- Follow up - Use every opportunity during the resolution to keep your client in the loop. Often times your client just needs to know that you care about him and are working towards resolution. Follow up quickly with information that exceeds your customer's expectations. Don't delay in your follow up, even if you do not have all the information in hand. "Mr. Jones, I really appreciate your patience, I followed up with my staff and should hear back from them in the next 2 hours. I just wanted to get back to you to fill you in. Thanks again for your patience."
- Your customer must be happy with the solution - It takes multiple positive experiences to make up for every problem that goes unresolved, and only if your customer decides to stay with you in the first place. Make sure your customer is happy with the outcome and your solution. If they are not happy, what will it take to make them happy? Again, here is your chance to exceed expectations.
While we never want our customers to have any issues with our products or services, if a problem does surface, it is essential that we work through the situation and arrive at a solution. Our competition is too fierce and our customers are too smart for us to think this can all be swept under the rug.
Use a problem to prove to your client exactly how awesome you and your company are at providing exceptional customer service. Things are far easier when we don't have issues to contend with, but if they do occur, use it as an opportunity to go above and beyond. I can assure you, your customer is worth it.