Last week was a bad week for U.S. mobile phone carriers. On Oct. 13, the FCC said it would consider new rules for carriers to reduce customers’ frequent complaints of “bill shock” (see FCC Proposes Rules for Carriers to Address 'Bill Shock'). That same day (Oct. 13), the Better Business Bureau of Western Washington reported that tech companies (mobile phone carriers, household Internet service providers and software publishers), made up four of the top five businesses drawing complaints from customers (carriers were number one).
“The only non-tech businesses on the top five complaint list were travel agencies, which earned a fourth-place position,” wrote John Gillie of the Tacoma News Tribune (Oct. 13).
Wireless retailers are familiar with the importance of spinning bad customer experiences into good ones. Often, frustrated wireless customers are simply looking for a place to vent about their dissatisfaction with their carrier (which has obviously become more commonplace than ever).
Correctly handling complaints can be the difference between keeping a customer – along with all the people in his/her sphere of influence – and losing one.
Bob Leduc of BusinessKnowHow.com has compiled a list of seven steps you and your staff can take to turn customer complaints into more sales.
1. Plan for complaints
"You can never eliminate every customer complaint," writes Leduc. "Some mistakes happen regardless of how carefully you try to prevent them. Expect to get a few complaints periodically. It's part of operating a business."
Leduc recommends keeping a positive attitude in the face of complaints, while keeping in mind that your relationship with the begrudged customer is more important than the immediate profit of their purchase. Think long term: A happy customer now will reward you later with more sales.
2. Make resolving complaints a priority.
Get on it right away. Surprise your customer with a quick response to their complaint. If you cannot solve the problem immediately, make it clear that you and your staff will promptly come up with a solution.
"The longer a customer has to worry about getting their problem solved, the less likely they will accept a satisfactory solution and remain your customer."
3. Be professional.
Keep your cool in the face of conflict. Some customers complain aggressively because they expect you to resist solving their problem. "You can calm their hostility by letting them know you genuinely want to help them," suggests Leduc. "Assure them you will do everything possible to solve their problem."
4. Take responsibility.
Excuses get you nowhere. "Take responsibility for the complaint even if the problem wasn't your fault. Apologize for the inconvenience. Briefly explain the root of the problem. Then tell your customer exactly what you will do to correct it."
A big part of this strategy is teamwork. Your staff members need to support each other and take it on the chin when dealing with unsatisfied customers. Pointing the blame to a co-worker only encourages the customer to lose faith in your store.
5. Compensate your customer for the inconvenience.
This is what the customer came in for. "Complaining customers hope to get a satisfactory solution to their problem, but they often expect to get something less," explains Leduc. "Surprise them by solving their problem AND giving them something extra to compensate them for their inconvenience. This helps them forget about the problem. Instead, they will remember the special attention you gave them."
6. Follow up to confirm satisfaction.
"After solving your customer's problem, follow up to confirm their satisfaction with the outcome. This reinforces your relationship with the customer."
Leduc suggests following up with a deal to encourage a new purchase. "Once you confirm the customer is pleased with the way you resolved his/her complaint, give him/her a special offer not generally available to other customers. This motivates him/her to get back into the habit of buying from you."
7. Prevention is the best medicine.
Take action to prevent similar complaints. "After resolving a customer complaint, try to identify exactly what caused it. A complaint often reveals some weakness in your business procedure. Many times this weakness is minor and you can easily correct it to avoid similar complaints in the future."
Communication is also important. Have a brief meeting with your staff over coffee or post a note on the staff fridge, not to finger blame, but to ensure that everybody's on the same page.