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Published in Sam's Club

Customer Relations 101

by Patricia Fry

Most business owners would rather face the IRS than an irate customer. What they don't know is that a disgruntled customer, when satisfied, can become their company's greatest ambassador. In fact, customers who can hurt a business most are those who don't have the opportunity to complain.

The Technical Assistance Research Program released a report a few years ago stating that a disgruntled customer whose complaint is resolved to his satisfaction is nine time more likely to remain a customer than the unhappy customer who doesn't complain.

An angry customer is usually a good person who has had an unpleasant experience with a product or service. By the time he approaches your company personnel, however, he's upset. He expects his complaint to be met with hostility and opposition and he's prepared for verbal battle. How do you handle an irate customer?

Listen. The customer has something to say, let him say it. Don't interrupt him and don't try to defend the company or your position against his accusations. Just allow the customer to vent. To keep from becoming emotionally involved, focus on the problem. To best help the customer, take notes.

Understand. Empathize with the customer. When the opportunity arises, say, "I would be upset, too, if this happened to me." Or "I don't blame you for being annoyed."

Clarify. Once the customer has finished telling his story, go over the points of the complaint. Say, "Now as I understand it, the delivery was three hours late arriving and, when you opened the box, you discovered a part missing. You sent the item back with the deliveryman and no one has contacted you, yet, about a replacement. Is that right, Mrs. Johnson?"

Be accommodating. Stay with the customer until the problem is resolved. Try to avoid having to make the customer wait. Don't put the customer on hold for long periods. If you have to call her back, do it promptly and make sure you have all of the necessary information ready to impart. Make this one of the easiest transactions this customer has ever experienced.

Be agreeable. Ask the customer what he or she wants—how he or she wishes the company to respond to their loss and/or inconvenience. Most customers want far less than you would imagine: an apology, the item repaired or replaced or a slight adjustment to their bill, for example. Give the customer what he wants and even more, if applicable. Avoid using the word "policy" in negotiating with the customer. Don't tell him that he's the only one with this problem. Don't blame the problem on the fact that you've been busy. All that says to the customer is, "You don't matter." "You aren't a priority."

Follow up. Handle the request personally and follow up with the customer to make sure that he or she is satisfied.

Empower employees. Few companies have complaint departments these days. In fact, a business functions best when all of the employees are trained to work successfully with customer complaints and are empowered to resolve their problems.

Don't fear the irate customer, embrace him. After all, a customer who complains is saying, in essence, please help me to remain your customer.

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