By MaryEllen Tribby
You could have endless debates about practically any topic related to the business world.
You might argue over the best type of business… A traditional brick-and-mortar business… Or an online information publishing business… Or something in between.
You could debate the most important skill set required to run a business. Many will declare it’s marketing expertise… Others will insist it’s the ability to create quality products… Still others will state it’s relationship-building prowess.
But one thing in business is not debatable. It is the most critical aspect of ANY business. It is the single most important thing you need to obtain and maintain in order to keep your doors open. In fact, it’s the very lifeblood of your organization.
Making sure your customers are beyond satisfied with your products, services, and ongoing correspondence should be your number one priority!
But sometimes the system breaks down and you end up disappointing your customers.
Yes, mistakes happen. Sometimes your employees screw up. Sometimes you do.
Sometimes the mistake is small… Sometimes it’s major…
Sometimes your customer is having a bad day… Sometimes your customer is understanding… And every once in a while, along comes your worst nightmare: that one-in-a-million customer who is just not happy unless he’s miserable.
It doesn’t matter which scenario you are dealing with: you have a lot at stake. Not just your time and money, but your reputation as well.
The good news is that you can turn an unhappy customer into a happy customer, one who stays with you and becomes your biggest fan.
10 Surefire Ways to Ensure Customer Exuberance
1. Cool off: Never deal with a customer problem immediately after reading or listening to nasty correspondence. Take a moment to cool down. This way, once you start to investigate the situation, you can do so from a professional and objective perspective rather than reacting emotionally or being defensive.
I know it is extremely hard to simmer down after you or some aspect of your company have been attacked. We take pride in what we do. When someone questions one of our products, one of our employees, or our integrity… it is personal.
However, you must be able to acknowledge the underlying complaint or problem… Separate yourself from the situation… And respond in a professional manner. That way, you will come out of the situation knowing your actions were above reproach.
2. Listen: Let your customer tell you her issue without interruption. When you try to correct or interrupt your customer, you will make matters worse.
3. Apologize: If you are the person the customer is speaking to, always apologize and take responsibility. Let him know you intend to get to the bottom of the situation once you have all the facts.
If you cannot resolve the situation during that initial communication, let the customer know you will get back to him within 24 hours. Make sure you follow through on the conversation!
4. Assess the situation: There is an old saying that goes like this: “When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.” As corny as it is – it’s correct.
Don’t make assumptions. Always get ALL the facts before trying to resolve a problem. If your employees are involved, talk to them. Ask them to give you their side of the story. If a joint venture partner is involved – even if she resides in a different time zone – wake her up or have an email ready for her in the morning.
Your customer may (and usually does) have a legitimate issue that may be a simple misunderstanding. When you know the facts and refrain from jumping to conclusions, you will usually be able to find a quick and mutually beneficial resolution.
5. Communicate via phone: How many times have you received an email and thought, “Boy was that rude! When I speak to that person I will give him a piece of my mind!”… only to speak to that person and find him to be polite and respectful? It is so hard to detect tone of voice in an email! A phone call is much better – especially when you’re dealing with an upset or dissatisfied customer.
But conveying tone of voice is just one reason to correspond by phone. The other is that a phone call is immediate – and it takes more effort than dashing off an email. Picking up the phone shows respect and a sense of urgency. You make it clear that you care about the customer’s experience and want to solve the issue as soon as possible. If the customer does not answer, leave her a message and then follow up with an email.
6. Never dispute a refund: All of your products should come with a money-back guarantee. If a customer wants to return a product for a refund - either within or outside the refund period – give him his money back. This shows that you are more interested in your customer’s satisfaction than in his money. It’s a good way to keep yourself in that person’s good will.
By the way… Don’t worry about people taking advantage of this. While some customers will ask for a refund at any time, most customers will honor your refund timeframe.
7. Send a surprise follow-up gift: We all love getting surprise gifts in the mail. Well, so do our customers! There are wonderful online services from which you can order little gifts for under $10. If you’ve just saved a $500, $1,000, or $5,000 sale, isn’t spending $10 on a gift worth it?
While it doesn’t need to be expensive, make sure the gift is personal and thoughtful. Do not send your customer a digital ebook via email or anything else that shows little effort.
8. Never ignore a complaint: So many entrepreneurs make the mistake of ignoring customer comments and complaints… especially if the complaints come from only one or two people. They brush it off as an anomaly. In reality, for every one comment you hear, there are 33 people who feel the exact same way or have the same problem but just choose not to tell you. And you can be sure that if they chose not to tell you, they will not buy from you again.
9. Meet with your team: I am not big on meetings for the sake of meetings. However, you should hold a team meeting every week. This way you will hear about any and every potentially damaging situation. This is where members of your team should bring up issues that need to be addressed right away.
10. Survey your customers: Communicating with your customers – and asking them for their thoughts – shows that you really care about them. Ask them to tell you not only what they like about your organization but also what they don’t like. Chances are that you already know what you’re doing right. But you may not be aware of some of the things that are bothering your customers.
Do not blow off the complaints or negative comments just because you disagree or do not want to face reality. Every complaint is an opportunity for you to improve your business!
All of these tactics can help you save relationships with your customers. But no matter what – whenever you deal with a customer, happy or angry, satisfied or dissatisfied – remember this:
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.
This is the easiest way of all to create a strong, lasting bond with your customer. Simply ask yourself how YOU would feel if YOU were in the customer’s situation. And not just how you’d feel if you had the problem she may be having… But how you would feel if someone did not take you seriously… or kept interrupting you… or responded to you via email instead of the phone… or failed to respond to you at all. Then treat your customer the way YOU would like to be treated.
Do this and your business will flourish.