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Perfect the Old Soft-Shoe for Customer Complaints

The Old Soft-Shoe: “a speech, explanation, sales pitch, or other set of remarks delivered in a restrained or conciliatory manner in order to persuade, distract, or otherwise influence someone.” —

Perfect the Old Soft-Shoe for Customer Complaints

Satisfying Unhappy Customers Pays—If You Can Keep Your Cool

By Fran Carville, CRM, Carco Awards/

The Old Soft-Shoe: “a speech, explanation, sales pitch, or other set of remarks delivered in a restrained or conciliatory manner in order to persuade, distract, or otherwise influence someone.” —

Now, 99% of my customers are great people. The customer who spends thousands of dollars in our store each year and sends us a thank-you King Cake every year for Mardi Gras. The customer who goes the extra mile for our business by actually driving potential new customers to our store on a regular basis. The customer who always invites us to their company’s annual party to thank us for good service. Every single customer who shows us appreciation, whether it is the one who sends flowers after a successful convention, the one who drops off cookies, or the one who just says, “These awards are perfect.” The customers who trust your judgment because they recognize you as the professional, and the ones who return to your store year after year as a show of loyalty. Just like all of you, I love my customers…at least 99% of them!

And then there is the other 1%.

You know. That guy. Never really happy with the selection. Never really satisfied with the price. Never really happy with the turnaround time. Never really happy about anything.

This very, very small group of customers can take an incredible amount of time. Let’s face it: Some people just like to complain. It may well be nothing personal, because statistics show that as a society, we kind of like to complain from time to time. If we stop to consider how many thanks we hear, compared to the number of complaints, you have to acknowledge that most in our industry truly understand and practice good customer service. But we can never forget the importance of dealing with the complainers effectively.

The Soft, Soft-Shoe

Do you think every single one of your customers is deliriously happy with your business all of the time? According to Client Heartbeat, “99% of unhappy customers won’t complain. However, 91% of those will never come back.” The sad thing is that we often allow an unsatisfied customer to remain that way because it’s easy. Have you ever had a customer say something like “Oh, I thought the names would be larger on those plates” or “Wow, I had hoped to be able to pick up my awards on my day off.” Like it or not, those are complaints!

Consider this. The possibility of selling to a new consumer is 5%–20%, while the possibility of continuing to sell to an existing happy customer is 60%–70%. It just makes sense that we do everything in our power to fix those small, often ignored complaints.

Here's how:

  1. Listen to what the customer’s words and body language are saying. A customer that looks at their beautiful walnut plaque and says nothing may be complaining in silence. A customer that says, “This isn’t what I was expecting,” is very politely complaining.
  2. Be proactive with these customers. Take the bold step of asking if they are pleased with their awards, and most will tell you what they are thinking but afraid to verbalize.
  3. Take action. If they thought their trophy tags were going to be sublimated, but you engraved them, that’s an easy fix. Offer to redo them—quickly and at no charge. If the customer’s perception of what they purchased is different from the finished product, make them happy, whether it is a one-time discount of the merchandise, redoing the order, or just taking the time to listen to the complaint.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask a customer how they want the problem solved. When you consider that a happy customer spends 140% more (according to the Harvard Business Review) and that one happy customer equals nine referrals (according to American Express), isn’t it worth a little of your time to identify unhappy customers and make them happy?

The Soft Shoe

Occasionally, we encounter a customer who needs absolutely no help in voicing a complaint. Yes, it is just possible that on one particular day you or a staff member might not have been at the top of your customer service game. Maybe on that one particular day this one particular customer did not feel like your most valued customer. Maybe there was a disconnect between the sale and production. Or maybe the customer messed up but has a problem assuming any blame. (Sound familiar to anyone?) No matter the complaint, most can be handled with professionalism that will have the customer smiling.

  1. Don’t play the blame game. If there is an issue with the award, does it really matter where the blame lies? If it does to you, then gently—very gently—point out the customer’s mistake on the order, sympathize, and quickly move on to resolve the issue.
  2. Stay calm, stay in the moment. Let the customer speak. Don’t interrupt, maintain eye contact, and listen. Don’t take it personally.
  3. Show that you care and empathize with the customer. Apologize for their inconvenience and get the problem fixed on a timely basis.
  4. Obviously NOT your mistake? Fix the problem! Part of customer service is about always going the extra mile. According to Lee Resources, “Resolve a complaint in the customer’s favor and they will do business with you again over 70% of the time.” And I’ll bet they leave your store with a smile and tell others how wonderful your business is!

The Not-So-Soft Shoe

And then, there’s THAT customer. The one you feel you will never in a million years be able to please. The one for whom nothing will ever be good enough. The rare customer who is totally unreasonable or even hostile—a bully. The preferred result from this individual would be that he remains a customer but stops the unreasonable behavior.

  1. In today’s world, a business with great customer service is rare. Sometimes a customer actually expects to be treated poorly, based on shopping experiences with other retailers, so they have a chip on their shoulder before the conversation begins. Our job is to not take the complaints personally. Stay friendly and don’t take the bait of bad behavior.
  2. Respect the person, not the behavior. Unlike the customer, you are not angry. You are in control, and your only problem is to help this customer solve his problem.
  3. Like it or not, your job is to let the customer vent. Many times the customer will realize that you actually care and calm down.
  4. Let your staff know that you are always available to handle an irate customer. Yes, the buck stops with you, not your employees. Many times a customer will feel better just knowing that the owner cares enough to handle their issue directly.
  5. Over the past 10 years, there’s been a lot of talk about “firing a customer.” This should only be a very last resort and with a full understanding of all possible ramifications of what this could mean to your business.

Harris Interactive reports that the top causes of customer loss are customers feeling that they are “poorly treated” and companies failing to “solve a problem in a timely manner.” It pays to treat your customers well and address their complaints.

‘Let Me Get the Owner for You’
Funny story: I had a male customer that continued to tell me that “the owner” always gave him a deal and that “the guy” knew how much money he spent in our store every year. I wanted to say, “I am the owner, so get over it.” Instead, I just smiled and said, “Let me get the owner for you.” Once my husband, Tom, appeared, this customer was a happy camper, because he was important enough to be dealing with the owner and not some “salesgirl.” Tom easily closed the sale, without a discount, and the customer was delighted! Do whatever it takes!

And if you think about it, there is a silver lining with complaints. Though a complaining customer can be a challenge, you know that there are very sound reasons to be willing to work with these customers.

Customers who do complain are likely to be some of your most loyal customers—once you solve their problems. As much as we all dislike complaints, they can be an excellent source of feedback for quality control if we can just learn to listen with an open mind. Knowing what problems exist is the only way to correct them and to strengthen your customer loyalty and your business!

Fran Carville, CRM, is an Awards and Personalization Association past president, educational speaker, 2008 Speaker of the Year, a member of the Hall of Fame, and winner of an Award of Excellence from the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Fran and her husband, Tom Carville, CRM, own Carco Awards in Baton Rouge, LA.

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