Damage Control: Solving Problems with Customer Service

Why your shop should have a superb customer service policy.

Recently, I had a rather negative experience with a customer service representative from a popular hotel chain. The hotel dropped the ball on a reservation I had made for a late arrival of one of our employees. Then, after canceling the reservation and not allowing him to stay at the hotel, they went ahead and charged my credit card anyway, saying I canceled the reservation by my employee not showing up on time. As I attempted to sort this out, I was told by the customer service rep there was really nothing more she could do. So, I requested to speak with the hotel manager. I was informed that he was out of the country and they had no idea when he would return, and that it didn’t really matter because he would just tell me the same thing. Even after I expressed that this is a hotel my business partners and I utilize on a very regular basis, she didn’t really seem to care. I was stunned. It was a maddening experience that left a very sour taste in my mouth and effectively made me decide never to return to that hotel. Luckily, I was able to dispute the charge with my credit card company, but this hotel chain lost both revenue and a valuable customer.

Lest you believe that the sharing of this experience is only serving as my “venting therapy” (although it has helped), there is a point. All of us have stories like this that cause us to shake our heads and wonder how some businesses can miss the boat so far with regard to customer service. Likewise, we’ve all had wonderful experiences with customer service reps who have gone above and beyond in helping remedy a problem. This experience caused me to reflect on my own business and the level of customer service that we provide. I invite you to do the same by asking yourself the following question: “Does my company regularly provide excellent customer service to my clients?”

Tackling the Problem
Maybe we should begin by asking what defines excellent customer service. Being nice and polite to your customers in person, on the phone, and even via email is certainly important. But if you’re being nice, yet not really taking care of your customer’s problem, there’s a high likelihood this will be a negative experience for your client regardless of how politely they’re treated, leading to an unsatisfied or even angry customer. So, how do we deliver great customer service?

At times, we can make the quest for excellent customer service more complicated than it needs to be. In reality, all we need to do is ask ourselves, “Am I taking care of the problem?” That’s the fundamental basis of great customer service: taking care of people’s problems, no matter what they are. When things go wrong, emotions typically run high. As a result, what your customer really wants to hear is that you’re going to take care of the situation. Once they know you’re committed to doing that, the subsequent discussions of costs, timeframes, who’s at fault, etc., are much easier to navigate.

The concept of “taking care of the customer” without question requires a company-wide commitment. It’s simple to rectify a customer issue when we’re the ones at fault. When it’s our mistake, it becomes easier to energize the staff to resolve the issue and to motivate them to do it urgently. However, it becomes much more challenging when there are gray areas as to whose fault the problem really is. For example, assume that you receive a customer request to produce a job, and someone inputs the job incorrectly. This is clearly your mistake. But let’s complicate things a little bit. Assume that you also email your client a job confirmation ticket with the wrong information and they approve it. You proceed with the job and once it’s finished, both you and the customer discover that it’s incorrect. Who bears the blame? In other words, how are you going to take care of the problem?

In this case, you may often negotiate with the client and share some financial responsibility, enabling both parties to resolve the situation amicably. But ensuring excellent customer service becomes even more challenging when you’re right and your customer is wrong, but they don’t agree. We all have situations when we know for a fact that we are correct and the customer is not, but, for whatever the reason, they are not admitting guilt.

Now, you’re faced with a rather tough decision. Do you bite the bullet and take the hit, even though it will cost you time and money? Or do you confront your client and let them know they’re wrong and they’ll be responsible for the problem? Frankly, the answer to these questions probably varies from case to case.

The best approach is to err in favor of the customer as often and as far as you possibly can. Although it will feel difficult at times, the upside to creating immediate customer happiness is a long-term business relationship. If the customer is, in fact, wrong, but isn’t willing to budge in a certain situation, chances are high they know they’re wrong. If you’re willing to concede the problem in their favor, they’ll probably be even more loyal to your business.

One exception to this approach would be the case of a client consistently taking advantage of your customer service. We’ve had, on rare occasions, clients we know are being intentionally dishonest with us and taking advantage of our policy that the client is always correct. Rather than get into controversial and emotional conversations with them, we have quietly let them know we are probably not the best vendor for them, and they should search for a different option to accommodate their needs. So yes, on occasion, we have fired a client. Just because you provide excellent customer service doesn’t mean you have to find yourself in a situation where a customer is constantly taking advantage of you.

The Numbers to Back It Up
So, why go to the pains of establishing high-performing customer service to your clients? The following statistics provide some insight into the impact of both good and poor customer service:

• 58 percent of consumers are willing to spend more at companies that provide excellent customer service. (American Express)
• 82 percent of consumers have stopped doing business with a company because of bad customer service experiences. (Zendesk)
• 25 percent of customers are likely to say something positive about their customer service experience. (Harvard Business Review)
• 65 percent are likely to speak negatively about their customer service experience. (Harvard Business Review)
• 23 percent of customers who had a positive experience told 10-plus people about it. (Harvard Business Review)
• 48 percent of people who had negative experiences told 10 or more people about it. (Harvard Business Review)
• 30 percent of customers share positive reviews on social media. (Zendesk)
• 45 percent of customers share negative reviews on social media. (Zendesk)

With all of the avenues available through social media, review sites like Yelp, and online testimonials, we live in a world with instant and constant communication. That can be good or bad. If you’re doing great things in your company and providing top-notch customer service, the resulting positive messages from customers can boost your company’s reputation significantly. On the other hand, negative experiences with customers can quite possibly become public. And according to the statistics above, the chances are almost double that negative interactions will be shared over positive ones. Even if your company is currently doing very little e-commerce, don’t believe for a minute that you are immune to negative feedback. In this day and age, all savvy buyers will do significant research about a company before using them.

The availability of data about you and your shop can be frightening at times, but it’s the world we live in. Raising your level of customer service will go a long way toward ensuring that you’re able to retain your current customers, as well as place your company in a favorable place to earn new business. Establishing a great customer service policy will be a positive foundation piece of your business for years to come.

Read more about Business + Management from Marty McGhie or check out the rest of Big Picture's August 2017 issue.

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