Improve Your Customer Service Training

Posted by: Today's Tip Contributor on March 9, 2011

Almost all customer service training includes roughly the same instructions for dealing with unhappy customers: listening without interruption and the need to empathize, validate, apologize, take responsibility, and agree on a solution. If such training is so commonplace, why are some businesses so much better than others at turning unhappy customers into happy, loyal customers? Two separate businesses that seem to be following the same steps often show very different results. I’ve even seen different results in the same business with different sales associates who have been through the same exact customer service training.

Over time I’ve realized that the best businesspeople add an additional step that helps turn a negative experience into a positive one. Sometimes I’m not sure that the people who do this even realize what they’re doing; it just comes naturally. That extra step is to ease inconvenience. It’s an important part of the solution but it’s a step that most people overlook.

For years when I worked in a store, I didn’t always understand why customers were still mad after I agreed to fix their problem. "Sure I’ll swap out that massage chair, sir. All I need you to do is box it up in the original packaging and bring it back to the store." Why did my unhappy customer remain unhappy? I had listened, empathized, apologized, taken responsibility, and given him a solution. What was the big deal? Obviously, the big deal was that I didn’t ease the inconvenience. The problem remained a problem for the customer even when given a solution.

To successfully turn unhappy customers into happy and loyal customers, you must first assess what inconvenience the problem is causing your customer. Will the problem with the product cause the customer any inconvenience? Will the solution—or any part of the solution—cause the customer any inconvenience? Why did it not occur to me (or to anyone else in the company) that boxing up a defective chair and bringing it back to the store was asking a lot of a customer who was already not too happy? Obviously, if I had asked myself those questions about my discontented massage chair customer, I would have offered to swap the chair out in the customer’s home.

Try to create a solution that will both wow the customer and be fiscally responsible. If I take my car to the shop and the dealer offers to call me a cab, that’s not much of a wow. Giving me a ride somewhere is better, but the biggest wow is to loan me a car because that’s what does the most to ease the inconvenience. But be reasonable: Offering me a loaner if I’m only getting the oil changed doesn’t make financial sense, no matter how much it wows me.

Unfortunately, many business owners now look at solutions that will ease the inconvenience as a profit center, not the extremely important customer service and experience tool it is. Nothing is less productive than trying to squeeze money out of someone who is already unhappy. Businesspeople need to ask themselves if the short-term revenue is worth what the loss of a customer could cost in the long-run.

By the way, the best part about easing a customer’s inconvenience is that it makes you a hero in the customer’s eyes. Those are the customers who tell everyone they know what a great company you’re part of.

Doug Fleener
President and Managing Partner
Dynamic Experiences Group
Lexington, Mass.

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