I found myself on the phone yesterday talking to the customer service people at one of my largest suppliers. We spend about $15,000 a year with them and what we buy is, by my estimation, very high-margin goods.
The problem was that they sold me several items on their website that I needed asap. I paid more for shipping—several hundred dollars—than I did for the products. I was fine with that, as I needed everything the next day. It turns out that they did not have the inventory they represented on their website, and the first order was not shipped. Ok, stuff happens, and I had a day of leeway, so I ordered a comparable product, paid for overnight shipping (again) and thought my problem was solved. Alas, they again sold something they didn’t have, and I was without the supplies I needed for one of my high-value clients.
The order snafus were serious, but the worst part was the complete lack of communication from the company. Not a call. Not an email. Nothing.
A simple call after the first order saying they were out of stock and could ship a comparable product (there are many that would have worked) would have taken care of my needs. Simple. Positive.
A call to them a day later was an exercise in frustration. The first person to answer the phone had no information, and to be honest, had no power or proper training to deal with anything. Her supervisor, perhaps jaded by life or the job, was worse; very defensive and full of excuses.
Here’s what we all should be doing when our businesses let a customer down.
- Listen to the customer and let her get all of her thoughts out.
- Ask questions, paraphrase and make sure you understand the issues.
- Show understanding of the customer’s feelings. If this does not come naturally, make a list of appropriate phrases and keep them visible in your work area.
- Apologize for the mistake!
- Only give excuses for things that are temporary. By this I mean, if you couldn’t ship because FedEx had delays due to weather or your machinery broke and is being fixed. Most people can understand temporary or unforeseen issues.
- Do not give excuses related to poor management, poor inventory control or lack of staffing. Your client doesn’t want to hear about your problems: he called to solve his. The best thing you can do is work internally to fix your systems to avoid future letdowns. Nobody wants to see your company’s dirty laundry.
- If you can’t solve the problem—often true with new and low-level employees—have the sense to get the caller to someone who can. There is nothing more frustrating—from the customer’s perspective—than being given the runaround and being condemned to voice mail hell. That only breeds additional frustration and lack of confidence in the business.
- It should be obvious, but, SOLVE THE PROBLEM! Sometimes the solution is to just listening to someone who wants to vent. It might mean repairing or replacing equipment or giving some additional technical support.
- Give something a little extra. A one-time discount, an extended warranty, some additional product at no additional cost. Make the customer feels as if you appreciate her, and you want her business in the future.
- Ask the customer if you have solved his problem! You might be surprised how the perceptions of the customer service rep and the customer differ.
The important thing to remember is that a customer who takes the time to call, email or a write a letter has probably not been lost. With a little listening, understanding and problem solving, you can probably keep customers who take the time to let you know of problems.
The unhappy customers who don’t reach out are the ones you have probably lost. They are also the most dangerous to your business, as they are likely to tell many others of their negative experiences.