Why Hermle Is Excited About Unhappy Customers—And Why All Business Owners Should be, Too.
You read that right. We’re happy about unhappy customers. Unhappy customers exist in every industry, from retail, food, construction, engineering, healthcare—you name it, and someone has complained about it. So why are we so excited? Hermle North America is proud of our products, proud of our customer care, and want to present the best of ourselves to others, but while an unhappy customer may appear to challenge all of these things we’re so proud of, they can also present a unique opportunity to examine the flaws in our system, determine where changes and improvements need to be implemented, and showcase our customer service and hospitality skills to the rest of the world—and hopefully change that unhappy customer into a loyal Hermle customer for life.
1. Change Your Mindset
Story Time: Let’s say I am a customer to a large online retail website that rhymes with Mamazon, and after years of purchasing products without issue, a product I’d specifically purchased for a special event (read: time sensitive) didn’t arrive on time even with expedited shipping charges to my account. Annoyed, I call Mamazon’s customer service. After spending 5 minutes trying to track down just how to call them (you don’t—you give them your number on a page that isn’t readily listed on their website and they call you), I’m disconnected before reaching a live person—twice. Annoyed, I spend another 5 minutes on Google before finding the 1-800 number and run through the list of prompts, finally to be connected to an actual person twenty minutes from when I started this entire process. I explain my problem, but all I’m given is the exact information I’ve just recited to the rep, information that I could see by looking at the tracking number on the order page—my package has been ‘out for delivery’ for two days, but still no package.
To make matters worse, it’s a Sunday, and I need the package asap. In the words of Vernon Dursley, “No Post on Sundays.” I leave the call with my problem unresolved, frustrated that I don’t have my product I need in time for the event, and feeling uncared for by the customer service team.
The point of this story: a hundred positive experiences can take place, and all it takes is ONE negative experience and a lack of prompt, concise follow-through on behalf of the customer service team to turn a loyal fan into one who avoids your business at all costs.
“Change your words; change your attitude.” The same applies to this simple business practice. The words “complaint,” “negative review,” “unhappy,” and “dissatisfied” all have, well, negative connotations, meaning that most business owners and customer service personnel cringe, and worse, deflect blame. Instead of seeing the complaining customer as a problem, change your mindset and see these complaints as an opportunity for growth.
Ask yourself, what was their concern? How did this happen? What can we do to ensure that this doesn’t happen again? It could be that this person is complaining about a quality issue for a product that they’ve ordered, and in turn, a fix on your end would be to pass on the concerns for quality control to the production department of your business, making sure that each product shipping out is complete, in working order, and free of any marks or damage. A simple checklist as items are being packed into the boxes for shipment can help prevent these issues.
For shipping concerns (such as in the example above), a review of the parcel service being used might be in order, specifically as it concerns rush delivery where the customer is paying more for the product to be delivered within a short amount of time. This might be a situation where the order is processed faster through your merchant software—marked “priority,” for example—so that your team can get it in the mail as quickly as possible, ideally within a few hours. You may also want to examine the service used—perhaps fold the extra amount or increase your expedited shipping cost so that you can use a faster delivery service and reduce the number of delivery issues.
2. Answer Promptly
A prompt answer by an actual person rather than listening to hold music and being disconnected (let’s reiterate, twice) will throw most defensive customers off their guard.
What a prompt answer says is: Someone is here to answer my call. Someone cares about me and my problem, and they are going to help me solve it.
Let’s say that I wasn’t dealing with Mamazon but instead a small business that is only open Monday-Friday from 9 to 4:30---exactly when I’m at work and not really able to call about the issue. I might choose to email my concern instead, perhaps even on the weekend when I’m not distracted by everything else I need to do. A great business, even a small one, should always be within reach by at least one representative, even if they need to check in from home. These days, with the advent of the smart phone and notifications, a designated customer service email can send an alert to your phone that lets you know a customer needs help. For those who are experiencing complaints, responding to their email as quickly as you can—even if it is to say you won’t be able to send out a replacement or issue a refund until the start of the next business day—helps them feel their concerns were addressed and will make them feel satisfied with the outcome.
The same should apply to social media accounts. Make sure to respond to customer complaints on social media just as you would if they were calling in over the phone. A public interaction means that it isn’t just between an unhappy customer and your business—everyone else is watching to see how you respond. It is important to acknowledge—and acknowledge in a timely manner—that you’ve seen the complaint and that the customer is heard. Once you’ve done this publicly, it’s okay to take the conversation off the original thread and say, “We’re so sorry to hear that you had this experience or inconvenience. Our top priority is in making sure our customers are satisfied.” Then, ask the customer to send you a private message, or better yet, ask how you can reach them to resolve the issue.
3. Consider Your ToneWhat could the customer service reps have done differently in my example that might have changed my overall impression? “Well,” you might say, “you were already annoyed by the time you’d been connected to a live representative. You were in a bad mood to start with.” This is true, and likely, my annoyance was audible in my voice, which means the representative probably did the natural human thing and went on the defensive—that is to say, they deflected the blame. No longer was the issue on their behalf, but it was my attitude that was causing the problem. This makes the representative less likely to try to solve an issue and more likely to turn the issue back on the customer, making them feel unheard and uncared for.
In this situation, a better experience might have been to realize that any customer calling in with a concern or complaint is going to be naturally upset, and that they likely already have their guard up, ready to battle. Here’s the thing: Don’t take it personally. The anger isn’t actually directed at you; you just happen to be the unlucky messenger. Life happens, which means things get messy. Apologize for the inconvenience, acknowledge what went wrong and that the customer is justified in their frustration, and then go about fixing the problem. A reassuring, “I’m very sorry to hear that your package wasn’t delivered on its guaranteed date. That is extremely frustrating and I recognize your problem, so let me see what I can do to help resolve it as quickly as we can,” would’ve done wonders to help me feel reassured and confident that the issue would be corrected. Truly listen to your customers and echo back to them so that they recognize you fully understand their concerns and feelings. This will help ensure that they will be receptive to listen to you while you work on finding a solution.
4. Go Above and Beyond
A great business owner recognizes that in order to provide customers with the best service and complaint resolution, you need to equip your employees with the tools, resources, and permission to offer amazing customer service. This means minimizing the number of people they need to contact to fix the issue, providing them with the information on how to quickly resolve the problem, and preemptively offering permission for your employees to offer reimbursements, credits, or discounts to help resolve issues and assuage customers. When a customer service representative can immediately solve the problem for the customer, customers that much more impressed and likely to talk about it.
Make sure to follow through with my customer service issue via email. Always ask for an email address where you can send a written summary of the phone call and solution. Include your name, the date and time you spoke with the customer, an order number, and the solution that was met. This helps not only the customer, but also your customer service team to have something to look back on to review the issue, solution, and timeliness of the problem resolution.
5. Recognize That a Complaint is a GOOD Thing
I know, it sounds backwards, but think about it: a customer who complains is a customer who wants you to solve the problem! Showing that you acknowledge the problem and have the tools to solve it is just as good as, if not BETTER than not having a problem at all! Instead of punishing these customers for daring to complain in the first place by slacking in the service, offer them a reward for those who leave a review, good or bad. When there are a thousand options for people to choose from in how they spend their money, your responsiveness to a problem can be the difference in helping that customer decide to come back to you time and again.
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