Business and Operations
5 keys to turning upset customers into fans
By Jeff Mowatt
By Jeff Mowatt
When it comes to dealing with dissatisfied customers, most business owners and managers believe that money-back guarantees and/or exchange policies will fix the problem. It’s a lousy strategy. Money-back guarantees and exchanges may fix the problem, but they do nothing to fix the relationship. Policies don’t fix relationships, people do.
When it comes to dealing with dissatisfied customers, most business
owners and managers believe that money-back guarantees and/or exchange
policies will fix the problem. It’s a lousy strategy. Money-back
guarantees and exchanges may fix the problem, but they do nothing to
fix the relationship. Policies don’t fix relationships, people do.
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 for
turning your upset customers into your biggest fans.
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
versus complaints will immediately shift a potentially negative
situation into one that is positive, helpful and productive.
2. Empower your 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. The 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 requires 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
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. It’s important to 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
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 anything else you can do.
5. Apologize and offer extras
Tell the customer, “I’m sorry” even if it wasn’t your fault. 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 lose a lifetime of repeat and spin-off business.
If your product or service really did fall short of the mark, then of
course you’d give a refund or exchange to retain the customer. 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.
Every business has occasions when 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.
This article is based on the critically acclaimed book Becoming a
Service Icon in 90 Minutes a Month, by customer service strategist and
professional speaker Jeff Mowatt. To obtain your own copy of his book
or to inquire about engaging Jeff for your team, visit
www.jeffmowatt.com or call 1.800.JMowatt (566.9288).