Bad customer service drives customers away. Obviously. How to handle angry customers (and review a sample of customer complaint letter); use outstanding customer service tips to deliver better service and delight your customers.
Why talk about bad customer service?
So that you can learn the impact of (and the differences between) bad, average and good customer service on your business.
How many small business owners want to talk about bad service? Not too many. Because most of us want to believe that we deliver only good customer service.
However, it is highly likely that, at least once in a while, your small business will either deliver poor customer service or receive it.
Resolve the issue quickly. Empower your employees to resolve complaints; don't make them ask for three levels of approval. If you are concerned that they might make the wrong decision, give them parameters to work with (dollar limits for example). By resolving a customer complaint quickly, the cause of your customer's dissatisfaction is also resolved.
Don't let the emotion of the moment (your customer's anger) get to you on a personal level. Yes, this is easier said, then done. I, too, have been on the other end of an angry customer's call: the customer was yelling and swearing. Stay calm. Let the individual vent. Use affirmative language (yes, okay, all right) and, if face-to-face, affirmative body language (such as, nodding your head) to support the individual; eventually they will 'wind down'.
Earlier I said that active listening or reflective listening do not mean that you are agreeing with the customer's complaint. But if your business has made a mistake, admit it. And admit it as soon as possible in the conversation. Saying, "You're right. I'm very sorry about how we handled that order." is highly effective. Most customers just want recognition that you did it wrong; if you deny that you made a mistake you will make the situation worse and perhaps cost yourself a customer.
Be respectful and courteous to your customer, even if he or she is swearing and/or yelling at you. But being respectful does not mean you are agreeing. Sometimes what the customer is asking for is unreasonable or impossible (although many businesses believe in the old saying, "the customer is always right"). Let the customer understand your position and your business' policies.
If an angry customer calls you directly to complain about the bad customer service he or she received from one of your employees, listen to what they have to say and then tell the customer you will investigate the issue. Do not undermine your employees by agreeing with your customer before you have spoken to the employee. By telling your customer that you will investigate (and doing so), you will demonstrate that you are interested in solving the problem.
Often poor customer service comes from business growth (that is, your business grows too fast to properly manage it), or recruiting employees that don't fit the job or the business, or not providing good customer service training or a number of other reasons. But as important as understanding why your business delivers bad customer service, is understanding the impact of customer service and understanding how to handle dissatisfied customers.
Have you ever received a complaint letter or email from a customer? Customers have to be really frustrated or angry to write a letter about it (more often they will simply stop buying from you).
A sample of customer complaint letter might look something like this:
"Dear ABC Company, I recently bought a new widget online via your website. The order confirmation said that the widget would be shipped within 24 hours and delivered within 5 to 7 business days. Ten business days later I phoned your customer service line to find out where my order was. I was put on hold for 5 minutes and was told the order had been shipped.
Twenty minutes later I still didn't know where my order was. When I tried to cancel the order, I was told that I couldn't cancel until I'd received the shipment ... what happens if I never receive the order. Your customer service department is not providing service! I have contacted my credit card company and cancelled this order. I will never buy from your company again!"
The sample of customer complaint letter in the box to the side is common with badly handled customer issues. ABC Company needs to train its staff to actively listen to customers and to problem solve with the customer in mind. Working for the customer must be the priority.
The immediate result from delivering bad customer service is angry customers. If you deal with angry customers correctly, you can still save the business relationship. However, if you don't use effective problem solving strategies to help your customer service staff in managing anger, you may lose business that you will never be able to regain.
Your small business success is likely dependent, to at least some degree, on repeat customers. But failing to satisfy a customer can be excused (by the customer) if you handle it correctly.
Use active listening and reflective listening skills: hear what your customer has to say, listen for meaning, reflect back what you think you heard. This does not necessarily mean that you are agreeing with how they feel but it does mean that you are hearing what they have to say.
Once you've solved the issue using problem solving techniques, tell the customer that you appreciate his communication with you (and you do, because if the customer hadn't talked to you about the problem then you would likely have simply lost his/her business).
Having your customer communicate with you about bad customer service (whether real or perceived), will enable you to turn that experience into good service; by using outstanding customer service tips.
Make sure that you talk to your key accounts at least once a year (preferably monthly or quarterly) and ask them directly where you can improve your service. Then, if you decide to make those improvements, communicate with your clients about the actions you've taken.
Acknowledge the issue. Be empathetic.
Actively listen to the customer's complaint, without getting defensive and without interrupting the customer's story.
Deal with the issue directly: do not pass the customer on to the next person! If you get an angry customer complaining about bad customer service, it will only make the individual more angry to be passed around for the 'right' person to talk to; make yourself the right person even if it's another department's responsibility.
Use phrases such as "I understand. I'm sorry you're unhappy with our service." Or paraphrase back for clarification, "What I heard you say was that..." And ask for more information, "Can you provide the details about what happened?"
Then tell the customer that you will investigate the issue. Give the customer a specific response or reply time: "I will investigate and call you back by the end of the day" (or within 2 hours), or whatever is appropriate but make the response time reasonable and then deliver your response on time or early.
Find the root cause of the issue. Good customer service management means involving the people responsible. Do not focus on who is right or who is wrong, focus on how you fix the problem and satisfy the customer. If cost is a consideration, remember to look at the overall cost of losing the customer. If the root cause of the issue is one you want to change, build a plan to fix it.
Once you've resolved the customer's complaint and communicated the resolution, follow up with the customer in four or five weeks and make sure the customer is satisfied with your service. Also conduct regular customer service surveys to ensure your customers are satisfied on an ongoing basis.
Focus on building your business to develop highly satisfied (even delighted) customers; this will help you build strong customer loyalty. You will find that customers who are delighted and loyal will often tell others about your business (as will unhappy customers).
Focus your customer service efforts on the highest value activities; these are the actions that will provide your business with the best return on your investment of resources.
Review your sales by customer at the product or service level (by type). Then analyze your direct and full costs by product or service.
Your goal in gathering, and then analyzing, the numbers is to compare the costs by products and services and then by customers; you want to know which products and services are the lowest cost and which customers provide your business with the best value.
This will help you focus your business resources to provide the most service and support to high value customers.
What's the gross profit margin by customer? Rank your customers not only by total sales but by profitability; and by sales by product or service.
If you have specific products or services that you know are more profitable than others you will want to focus your attention on the customers buying those more profitable items and/or you will want to encourage customers to buy more of the profitable product or service lines.
Note: A number of accounting software systems provide the capability to run these reports quickly and easily.
Providing customer service that consistently delights (rather than just satisfies) results in long term customers.
Your business' commitment to exceptional quality; the reliability and consistency of your service (your customers like to know that they can expect the same product or service, and the same level of support, on each and every order); and highly trained and knowledgeable staff are all key attributes to developing successful relationships with your customers.
Focus your business on more than satisfying customers; make delight a number one goal.