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Turning Dissatisfied Customers into Repeat Customers

The customer is always right. It's a phrase every business owner has heard. However, must a business owner always admit fault and give away the store to turn dissatisfied customers into repeat customers?

Absolutely not, but your company does need to have innovative customer care standards designed to quickly address and resolve customer complaints and questions.

Without such a program, your company could experience churn — "the term for today's revolving–door customer base. On average, U.S. firms lose half of their customers every five years — an expensive loss."1

Complaints are retention opportunities

Experts agree — you don't have to lose disgruntled customers. According to Roger Nunley, managing director of the Georgia–based Customer Care Institute, research shows "if you have a customer who is dissatisfied or who has a complaint, and you quickly respond and satisfy that customer, that customer will be even more loyal than customers who have not complained about your product or service."

Indeed, if handled well, complaints can actually be a very positive experience for your company, continues Nunley. "Complaints are a good thing in that they give you some idea of what you need to work — on where there are quality or service problems."

9 times out of 10 — letting the customer vent... automatically calms them.

You'll be judged

Patrons will assess your response using three criteria points:

  1. Interpersonal treatment — the politeness, empathy, effort, and honesty of your staff.
  2. Process — how responsive your staff is to grievances and requests, as well as how fast and simple the overall process is.
  3. Complaint outcome — the compensation they receive for their troubles.2

How can your company score high points on all of these fronts? Following are some strategies designed to resolve complaints quickly and effectively.

Listen

Listen attentively to what is troubling your clients. Reassure them verbally and with your body language that you are concerned, you want to hear their grievances, and that when you have all the information, you'll try to rectify the situation.

For your company's protection, customer service representatives and employees should not make any admissions which could subject the company to any liability.

Let them "vent"

Do not take customers' anger personally. Remain objective and remember that they are upset with the situation, not necessarily with you. Avoid getting involved in a point–by–point debate. Allow your clients to explain the situation, then go back to get more information, ask questions, or politely disagree.

If possible, calm irritated consumers. "Nine times out of 10, letting the customer vent, tell their story, let off steam — that automatically calms them," says Nunley.

Calming phrases

Nunley also recommends using the following phrases to mollify angry patrons:

  • I will — "I" language shows the customer that you are taking responsibility to resolve the situation.
  • "I understand how frustrated you feel, and I would like to help you" or "I'm sorry to hear that." Both of these phrases express empathy without agreeing or disagreeing with the customer.
  • "I know this is important to you..."
  • "I will do whatever I can to help you."
  • "Please tell me how you would like the situation resolved and I will do whatever I can to help you."
  • "You are an important customer and we would like the opportunity to resolve this situation and make you happy."

Resolve the issue quickly

First, gather the facts. Having the correct information on hand will assist you in researching and rectifying the situation in a timely manner.

"The longer customers have to wait to get answers, the more dissatisfied they are, the more people they will tell about their dissatisfaction, and the more negative impressions go out about your company," says Nunley.

 Type of complaint  Response timeframe
 Telephone  Immediately
 Email  24 hours
 Fax  Three days
 Letter  One week


If you cannot offer a resolution immediately, be sure to let your customers know when they can expect to hear from you with an answer or resolution. Give yourself a little extra time. If you think you can research the issue in two days, tell your clients three so you can respond a little earlier and exceed their expectations.

Follow up

Once a problem is resolved, follow up with your customer to make sure they are happy and plan to continue doing business with you. A quick phone call or short note can make a difference in the long run.

Avoid common mistakes

  • Don't take a customer's anger personally.
  • Don't argue with customers.
  • Don't let the customer go without getting enough information to make a sound decision about how to resolve the problem.
  • Don't ignore your customers' complaints.

In the heat of the moment, it's easy to think... I don't need this hassle, I don't need this customer. However, displeased customers talk. In fact, "studies indicate dissatisfied customers tell 10 to 20 people" about their experience.3 That's word of mouth you don't need.


1Brown, Stephen W., "Practicing Best–in–Class Service Recovery; Forward–thinking firms leverage service recovery to increase loyalty and profits," Marketing Management, © American Marketing Association, Summer 2000
2Brown, Stephen W., Tax, Stephen, "Recovering and Learning from Service Failure," Center for Services Marketing and Management at Arizona State University, 1998
3Brown, Stephen W., "Practicing Best–in–Class Service Recovery; Forward–thinking firms leverage service recovery to increase loyalty and profits," Marketing Management, © American Marketing Association, Summer 2000

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