Saturday, October 25, 2008

Turning Customer Complaints Into Customer Referrals

Writen by Jonathan Farrington

It's a mistake to think that because a customer has expressed dissatisfaction with your product or service they will not come back to you.

They won't return if you handle the situation badly. However, some of your most vociferous complainers could become your most loyal customers, because you handled the situation well and treated them with respect.

This means recognising some essential traits:

• Customers want to be respected

• They want attention

• They want to be appreciated and recognised

• Most of all they want to be understood

Losing Customers:

Why do businesses lose customers?

A survey with which you may be familiar, asked customers why they changed supplier/vendor.

Here are the results:

• Developed a good relationship with another supplier 5%

• Less expensive products elsewhere 9%

• Unhappy with service/product 18%

Because of the poor attitude of the supplier 68%

Your Customers Are The Lifeblood Of Your Business:

It is never easy to win new business, which is why we should nurture existing customers and try to minimise problems and inconvenience.

It's a good idea to:

• Make regularly visits or calls – spotting trouble early on can help prevent it

• Reply to calls/queries as soon as possible

• Talk to your customers – find out about them

• Keep them well informed

• Conduct regular reviews of your performance - see your service through their eyes

Ensure that the lifeblood keeps flowing through the veins of your business.

Solving Problems:

Suppose they are difficult.

Few people are truly difficult. In any case it is important to make a distinction between difficult people and difficult behaviour, which is often a result of non co-operation on your part.

• Focus on the problem (challenge?) not on them

• Show interest – bring out their likeable side

• Put yourself in their shoes – remember empathy?

• Be personal – use their name if that's what they would like

• Appeal to their better nature. 'As a parent of small children you…'

• Cultivate their goodwill

Saying Thank You:

Let your customers know you appreciate them. Find little ways to thank them for their custom, especially when they are not expecting it. This is a great way to attract compliments, especially after sorting out a difficult problem.

• A simple but sincere thank you card – personalised

• Gift vouchers

• Cards at Christmas or other appropriate festivals – Diwali, Hanukah, Eid

• VIP days for special events, launches, dinners

• Social gatherings for key clients

Loyalty cards are very popular now with many organisations. Discounts, bonus points, free samples, all help to make your business stand out.

Compliments & Comments:

Why do we find it difficult to accept compliments?

Is it because:-

• We don't have enough faith or pride in our product?

• We think it's probably a back-handed complaint?

• We don't trust people?

• We don't know how to react? (How about thank you?!)

Compliments tell us what we are doing right and give a boost to our morale. If we allow it, they bring us pleasure.

Some customers just mutter a comment because that's how they are. They don't really want you to take them up on it. (It's a good idea though to take note of what they say and if appropriate ask, 'Is everything okay?')

Relationship Marketing:

Relationship marketing is no longer a new buzz word and obviously it's here to stay. It's all about looking at your customers and your relationship with them in a new light. Rather than develop a product or service and market it to the customers, relationship marketeers think about what the customers want and adapt their product development strategy accordingly.

It's about customisation to meet the needs of the individual. Relationship marketing is based on getting feedback and using it to develop and improve your service. Earlier it was suggested that companies make it as easy as possible for customers to complain. In relationship marketing, feedback is sought before a complaint occurs. This helps to:

• Identify potential problem areas before the customer does

• Customise

For many companies it has become practice to encourage customers to provide such information via the website. You need good quality of information if you are to have a two-way relationship with your customer

Customer Expectations:

Have customers changed? – In a word - Yes!

• They are more demanding

• Have higher expectations

• Have a more pressurised lifestyle

• Want everything but don't necessarily want to pay for it

• Are less tolerant

• Want more for their money, time and effort

• Are much more aware of their rights – influenced by consumer rights programmes

• Are driven by customer service issues in their own workplace

• Are more likely to seek recommendation from friends and colleagues than rely on advertising

• Are driven by new technology – particularly the internet

BUT – the key to supplier differentiation lies within these increased expectations, since customers now value closer links with efficient, competent suppliers who are willing to act as long term allies.

And Finally:

Some key lessons on keeping abreast of customer needs and minimising complaints:

• Use as much of the available technology as possible – make it work for the customer

• Focus on customers as individuals

• Listen and act on what they say

• Increase the value of each customer – especially in the long term

• Welcome complaints – always, always, welcome complaints.

Copyright © 2006 Jonathan Farrington. All rights reserved

Jonathan Farrington is the Managing Partner of The jfa Group To find out more about the author or to subscribe to his newsletter for dedicated sales professionals, visit

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