How To Win Back A Customer
Anyone who has been in sales for any length of time knows what it is like to have a grouchy customer. The merchandise wasn’t delivered on time, the product didn’t do what it was supposed to do, parts were broken or missing, or there was an unpleasant issue with the credit department. It is, to say the least, a stressful experience.
With visions of losing a sale or, heaven forbid, losing a customer, the temptation to get a little defensive can be overwhelming. And if we’re not careful, the way we react to these problems can even make matters even worse. In fact, in those instances when customer dissatisfaction has escalated into more serious consequences, it has generally been our response, not the issue, that created the actual conflict.
Like selling, handling customer complaints is a skill. And, like in selling, the payoffs of handling complaints can be tremendous in both customer relationships and increased sales. There is a process, and it works. The strategy revolves around one fundamental principle – the more you can do to communicate to your customer that you genuinely care about him and his business, the less conflict you will have.
The first thing to remember is to that there is more to creating a satisfied customer than simply resolving the primary issue. Sure, maybe you managed to correct an error in a shipment. But what do you know about the buyer’s individual needs, situation, circumstance, predispositions or personality? Maybe she’s been getting a lot of heat from her boss, and this was just one more black mark against her. Maybe she lost customers because of the delay. Maybe she just got off the phone with a grouchy customer of her own. You may have solved her problem, but you still might lose her as a customer.
Have you ever got off the phone with a seemingly irrational customer and thought to yourself, “Geez, what’s his problem?” The secret to defusing conflict is to learn the answer to that very question. Once you have managed to uncover both the intellectual and emotional issues, you will find that you can actually create an even stronger bond with a customer than you had before. The process has six steps, with the acronym L.E.S.T.E.R..
Obvious, right? Maybe so, but the truth is that most of us are pretty average listeners at best. The purpose of listening is twofold. First, it helps you better understand the issues from the customer’s perspective. The second thing it does is communicate to your customer that what he has to say is important to you. Here are just a few principles of good listening:
a. Shut up!
Let your customer do the talking.
b. Give your undivided attention
Set aside everything else you are doing. If you are face-to-face, make solid eye contact, stand straight and eliminate any barriers.
c. Prompt for more information
Use brief words and phrases, such as “Really?”, “Oh no!”, or “Is that right?” Try to avoid the standard uh-huhs and umm-hmms.
Try if you can to put yourself in your customers shoes. How would you be feeling. An emotional customer is much easier to deal with when you understand the emotions.
You don’t have to wait until you have a dissatisfied customer to practice your listening skills. The next time you're out at a social function, try not to speak unless you are asked a direct question. Don't be rude, of course. Keep smiling and make eye contact. Just don't talk. Time yourself to see how well you're doing. In addition to being wonderful practice for the next time you're face to face with a dissatisfied customer, you will also have the benefit of the people around you perceiving you as poised, confident and contemplative.
A fascinating thing often happens when we're in a confrontation. We repeat ourselves. We make our points again and again, a little louder each time. We reiterate, reemphasize, restate. We do this because we're convinced that our point isn't getting across; that the other person isn't really listening. "You just don't get it!" we scream silently. That's where "echoing" comes in. Echoing, or reflective listening, is the process where we feed back the key issue as perceived by the customer.
For example, a customer says, “I can’t believe it. This is the biggest piece of junk I’ve ever seen! It broke in two days! How do you get away with selling this stuff anyway?” Rather than responding to the rhetoric about ‘junk’, and ‘getting away with things’, as we are typically tempted to do, you would respond simply with “It broke in two days?”
When you echo properly, the message the customer gets is a loud, clear and non-judgemental “He understands.” The impact is huge. Be careful, though, of your tone of voice. You don’t want to come across as mocking, or condescending.
This next step helps to reinforce and solidify the perception that you care. Whether or not you agree with your customer’s position, you can still sympathize with how he feels. Once you have a good understanding of the issues, simply say, “From what you’ve told me, I can understand why you would be frustrated.”
When most customers become dissatisfied with you or your products, who do they talk to about it? You? No way. They tell everyone but you. They tell their friends, acquaintances, business associates, sometimes even total strangers. Let your customer know exactly how valuable their input is. Say, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” or “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to correct this.” You will be amazed at how positively your customer will respond.
By the time you reach this stage, you will have defused most of the emotional aspect of the complaint. Now is the time to work with your customer on a solution that you can both live with. Don’t be afraid to express clearly how important your customer is to you, by saying something like, “Ms. Smith, you are a very valuable client of ours. How can we fix this?”
Once you have agreed on a course of action, it is critical that you put the wheels in motion instantly. Don’t put it off! Part of responding is following up to ensure that your customer is, in fact, satisfied. A simple phone call to say, “Hi Ms. Smith, I just wanted to make sure that everything met with your satisfaction,” goes a long way.
This process works better than any other I have encountered. Give it a try. And for those occasional situations that you do run into that still stump you, remember the famous words from the days of Vaudeville, "Never let them see y