Written by Mark Fleming of www.academyofbusinesstraining.com Mark Fleming Is Executive Director of the Academy of Business Training in Cincinnati, OH. Fleming has an extensive business career that spans over 40 years. He is an expert in business and supply chain management.
I was recently asked to comment on the issue of unhappy customers who never seem to be satisfied. I want to share my comments and those of some of the people participating.
Me: Using customer service to run interference for bad products or services is all too common. Most of you are too young to have lived through the efficiency expert era, but in the 70s and 80s the big thing with corporations was to hire efficiency experts to look at their products and services and come up with ways to improve them. The corporations paid millions for these services. At some point, the smart ones wised up and realized if they just listened to their customers they could get this information for free!
In our customer service classes, we teach the students to view customer complaints as free product/services evaluation. The company should take every complaint seriously instead of offering a litany of excuses why there is a problem. The goal with every customer complaint, no matter what it is, should be to find a solution so the problem never ever happens again.
If you have people complaining about the same problem repeatedly, that should tip you off you have a problem. Why wasn't the problem addressed and corrected the first time they complained? Why should a customer have to call a second time? Sometimes you have to think outside the box to solve a problem.
I had one student whose company was always receiving complaints resulting from the actions of a third party vendor. The company would apologize for the problem, but felt they could do nothing more. Even in a situation like this you must act; the customer doesn't care the problem was caused by someone else, all they know is dealing with your company is causing them problems. I suggested they find another vendor. The student said they have tried, but were unable to find another vendor. I then suggested her company may need to provide the service themselves. Several months later I received an email from her; to solve the problem her company had purchased the third party vendor. Now that's going the extra mile for your customers!
Participant 1: That was strategic, use of forward or backward integration to gain competitive advantage. I agree. I am indeed learning more from this, we have to deal with almost similar situation at my work place where a customer is cut out of supply due to road construction and this keeps happening over and over again. The construction work takes about 3 years to complete and usually we have no alternative route for the service lines, in effect we are reduced to customer service (lip service) each time the customer complains yet the product is still not available.
Me: Is there no plan in place to deal with service interruptions caused by the construction project? Doesn't your government require the construction company to maintain water service? If not, you may have to approach the construction company and try to work out something to maintain service. If you truly want to deliver exceptional customer service, you or someone at your organization needs to take ownership of this problem and come up with a solution. Repeatedly telling your customers there is nothing you can do is not acceptable customer service.
Participant 2: If you do everything humanly possible within your power to resolve a customer's issue, then the customer should feel satisfied.
Me: Telling a customer you have done everything possible is not good customer service. You may feel they should be satisfied, but it is doubtful they will. If your company did not resolve the problem, they have not done everything they can do. Even if the problem is caused by the customer or a third party vendor, you must analyze the complaint and take appropriate action to ensure the complaint never ever happens again.
Participant 2: Actually, when I handle customer issues, and I do in fact do this very well, I make sure my customer knows I'm doing and have done everything possible to help them.... I know they are satisfied with the service I've provided them with in the end. To leave a customer with an unresolved issue is unprofessional, which I'm not. If everything has been done to help a customer and they aren't satisfied, well, generally, to me, that means this person just isn't happy, period.
Me: Please don't think I'm picking on you, because what you have stated is the opinion of way too many customer service reps. Think about what you just said, if the customer isn't satisfied with what YOU want to do for them, then they must be generally unhappy. Isn't that rather arrogant? Have you ever bothered to ask the customer what they think should be done to resolve the problem? Usually customers are quite reasonable in their requests. They just want things made right. Bottom line is, a failure to resolve a customer's problem will result in a permanent loss of that customer. It costs a company six times more to attract a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. A typical dissatisfied customer will tell eight to ten people about their problem. Seven of ten customers will do business with the company again if they resolve the complaint in their favor. If they resolve a complaint on the spot, 95% of customers will do business again. Of those customers who quit, 68% do so because of an attitude of indifference by the company or a specific individual.
Participant 2: No, I don't feel picked on at all. As for arrogant, that's quite presumptuous of you to think that's what I am - far from it. It's actually confidence. In the industry I'm in, there are those people who are just not happy no matter how much you help them. If you have not had the opportunity to come across these types of people in the industry you're in, well, that's great. Now, I never said I've failed to resolve customer's issues, far from that, I always get issues resolved, and yes I do know how unsatisfied customers can affect a company's bottom line, but I do appreciate your statistics. We deal with a few 1 man operations, who if you've never had the chance to do business with won't understand how unappreciative they can be unless at the end of your problem/issue resolution your answer is 100% refund, aren't satisfied because at the end of the day, even though you've helped them as much as you possibly could, offered discounts, professional advice, etc... they're looking for "free" due to their lack of understanding the cost of running their own service and ended up not turning a profit. Every industry is different, you shouldn't be so presumptuous or critical without knowing anything about the people you are addressing.
Me: Actually, I spent the majority of my career in the construction industry. Small companies make up a large segment of the residential side of the industry. We experienced problems with our sub-contractors because most were good at their trade, but horrible business people. So to deal with the problem, we provided help in the form of workshops for them to learn business basics like budgeting. It made them better business people and generated a tremendous amount of loyalty to us. In my current position, we help distributors train their customers in business basics (click here for more information on B2B training). Bottom line, you can always come up with ways to provide exceptional customer service if you choose to.
Participant 3: I used to audit contact centers for TNT Express and used to hear Participant 2's comments all the time, and I can understand how, at the end of a long day dealing with customers, agents often fall into the trap of labelling individuals as "Problem Customers" or "Never Happy." I think agents have one of the hardest jobs out there, they have to be empathetic, connect with the individual yet they should not be opinionated or draw conclusions about the customer's frame of mind or character.
That is very difficult to do. I agree with Mark, you cannot say that after you tried everything the customer was not happy so it's down to them. What you have actually done is tried everything that YOU think is reasonable and that you think will solve the problem, the reason it has not meet the customer's needs is because you have not identified these needs properly, and that's where the skill comes in, getting to know the customer's needs by asking questions like: "What can I do to resolve this situation?". I remember attending a VOC course years ago, the rules I was taught then still apply, people are people and they do not change from one year to the next. Participant 2, you sound like a hard working CSR who really cares about your job, but sometimes that is not enough, the customer does not care how much effort you have put in unless you have meet their particular needs at that particular time.
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