Thursday, March 15, 2012

How to Handle an Irate Customer

To convert an irate customer into a brand ambassador is the holy grail of customer service.

1. The first thing to do is to listen without interruption and with empathy. As much as you may want to clarify something or push back, be patient and let the customer vent. Indeed, all a customer often wants to do is to vent, to be heard.

2. Equally important: apologize. No wishy-washy language, no excuses-just a sincere acknowledgement that a ball was dropped, together with a personal statement of accountability and a pledge to do better. Don’t say, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Say, “There’s no doubt we screwed up. On behalf of our company, I truly apologize. I promise I’ll do everything to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

3. Don’t force the customer to ask for your contact info. Offer it-in full. If possible, provide your direct phone number, rather than an extension, and your e-mail address.

4. Everyone says “it’s not about the money,” but compensation never hurts. Even if the irate customer is dead wrong, consider the cost of his wrath to your brand vs. giving him a refund (partial or full), a coupon, free shipping-whatever will extinguish the fire.

5. A customer-obsessed business empowers its employees to make each customer’s experience exceptional, so that if corrective action is appropriate, she doesn’t have to always run it up the flag pole. At the same time, a customer-obsessed business has in place defined escalation roles, so that if something needs to be escalated, an employee knows exactly whom to call.

6. Beyond offering corrective action-apologizing sincerely, offering compensation, holding staff accountable, pledging to do better-businesses ought to follow-up with the customer after the dust has settled.

Sure, the situation was unpleasant and you’re glad it’s over, but even if you defused it then, what happens later, when the customer is browsing Yelp or Angie’s List, or your company comes up in conversation?

How the follow-up is done is as important as what is said. Don’t leave a voice mail, don’t send a letter that says, “Please contact me.” Make it your priority to reach the customer, apologize again, let her know what changes have been implemented, and confirm that she received the refund or coupon you promised.

Addendum (4/8/2012): Success!

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