When I speak at conventions and meetings on how to boost customer
retention, I often find that there is little attention paid to how
employees can fix the damaged relationship when the customer has been
let down. The consequences of this are staggering.
Inadequately trained front line employees chase away repeat customers
and referrals, spread damaging word-of-mouth advertising, and become
frustrated and de-motivated because they’re constantly dealing with
On the other hand, by applying just a few critical people skills,
front line employees can create such positive feelings – for both
themselves and their customers, that an upset customer will become even
more loyal. They’ll be transformed from being a critic of your
organization to becoming an advocate.
Here are five key strategies:
1. Focus on concerns versus complaints.
No one likes to hear customers complain. Employees become impatient
and defensive when faced with these “trouble-makers.” One of my
seminar participants equated listening to customer complaints to
undergoing amateur eyeball surgery. (That can’t be good).
To prevent this defensive mindset, employees need to be trained to
treat customer complaints as concerns. Employees should be made aware
of the fact that customers who express concerns are helping you to stay
sharp, competitive and successful. Focusing on a customer concerns vs
complaints will immediately shift a potentially negative situation into
one that is positive, helpful, and productive.
2. Empower front-line employees.
For their 43rd wedding anniversary, my father called a florist to
order 43 roses for my mother. When Dad asked for the price, the clerk
quoted the single rose price times 43. She offered no quantity
discount despite the fact that they’re usually cheaper by the dozen. She admitted that this didn’t make sense, adding that her boss wasn’t in
and the policy was to issue no discounts without the manager’s
approval. Result – a competitor got the order and Dad will never go
back to the first florist.
The lesson is that you can often prevent customers from becoming
upset if you empower your front line employees to make reasonable
on-the-spot decisions. This type of delegation require two important
factors: training and trust. The irony is that a lot of managers say
they can’t afford to train employees, when in fact they can’t afford not
to. You don’t get customers for free. You earn customers by
investing in front-line training.
3. Prove that you’re listening.
When a customer is voicing their dissatisfaction, stop whatever
you’re doing, turn towards them and give them an expression of total
concern. Listen without interrupting.
Then prove that you’ve heard them. That means repeating and paraphrasing. Important:
make sure you tell them why you’re repeating what they’ve said. For
example, you might say, “I want to make sure I’ve got this straight . .
. ” (then you paraphrase and repeat). That ensures that the
customer knows that you truly understand the problem.
4. Express sincere empathy.
Virtually every upset customer feels frustrated because they didn’t
get what they expected. It’s that simple. Whether or not they have a
valid reason for feeling frustrated is completely irrelevant. Upset
customers need to know that you care – not just about their problem –
but about their frustration. So, empathize. That’s something that no
refund or exchange will ever do. Use phrases like, “Gosh, that sounds
frustrating.” Or, “I’d feel the same way if I were you.” Empathizing will diffuse an angry customer faster than any thing else
you can do.
5. Apologize and provide extras.
Tell the customer, “I’m sorry.” Even if it wasn’t your fault, but
your co-worker’s, you represent your organization to that customer, so
apologize on behalf of the entire company. Even when you suspect the
customer may have erred, it’s better to give the customer the benefit of
the doubt, than to be “right” and loose a lifetime of repeat and
If your product or service really did fall short of the mark, then to
retain the customer, of course you’d give them a refund or exchange.
But that’s not enough. On top of the exchange or refund, give them
something for their inconvenience. Any small gesture or token of
appreciation (that doesn’t force them to spend more money) will be
greatly appreciated and will transform that upset customer into one of
your greatest advocates.
The training solution
Every business has occasions where things go wrong and customers are
disappointed. When that happens, your customer base won’t be preserved
by money back guarantees or exchanges. Rather, your business will be
saved by properly trained front line employees.
Jeff Mowatt is a customer service strategist, award-winning speaker,
and bestselling author. For more tips, training tools or to inquire
about engaging Jeff for your team visit www.JeffMowatt.com