How you deal with a customer service issue can make or break your company. You can work hard to build a positive brand image, but mishandle a customer problem, and it can all go down the tubes very quickly. Most businesses rely heavily on word of mouth. In today’s age of social media, word of mouth can spread like wildfire. Bad word of mouth, even faster.
On the other hand, if you handle a customer problem well, you have an opportunity to create a raving fan for life. If your customer feels like you treated them fairly, or better yet, went above and beyond fair, you have just gained a loyal customer who will tell their friends and associates how great you are.
The first step towards delivering the kind of customer service that creates raving fans is to shift your mindset. Customer service is not a necessary evil, it’s a marketing opportunity. It’s a chance to enhance your public image.
Remember that your customers are not a problem, they are the reason you are in business in the first place. They are not out to take advantage of you (at least most aren’t), they are looking to receive good value and service for their money. Before you react to a customer complaint, try to put yourself in their shoes, and treat them how you would want to be treated, even if they are behaving badly. If you feel defensive, your response will be defensive, and the conflict will escalate.
I heard a story the other day that made me shake my head in disbelief. An artist that I know has been a long time customer of a local, independent art supply store. She recently purchased a frame based on the measurements on the package. But the frame didn’t fit her painting. When she tried to return it, the owner of the store said no, since she had opened the package, she couldn’t return it, not even for a store credit. The customer tried to appeal to the owner as a long time customer, to no avail. So the angry customer went to the Department of Consumer Affairs. The complaint created a long list of headaches for the store, including a mountain of paperwork and having to reimburse the customer anyway. The customer told all of her friends who also shopped there about this negative interaction.
The customer in the above situation would have been happy to take a store credit. But because the store was more concerned with the cost of the return than the cost of the negative interaction, they ended up costing themselves much more than the price of the frame.
How do you handle a customer service issue well? A story came out recently about a young girl who had been attacked by a dog and had bandages and scars on her face. The girl was eating in a Kentucky Fried Chicken with her grandmother, and the manager asked her to leave because her appearance was upsetting the other customers. Kentucky Fried Chicken immediately announced that if true, this incident is unacceptable, and they pledged to pay $30,000 towards the girl’s medical bills.
This morning, the news came out that the entire incident might be a hoax, and that the girl was never asked to leave. KFC’s response was that they were taking the incident very seriously, but even if it turns out to be a false accusation, they were still committed to paying $30,000 for the girl’s medical expenses.
KFC could have responded in a number of ways. They could have viewed this family as scammers, and moved to protect themselves from other similar scammers. But instead they chose to act in a compassionate way. And my immediate thought was “this is a company that cares about people.” And the next time I have a craving for fried chicken, guess where I’m going! Had they responded differently, I would have thought it was horrible that a large corporation was picking on a poor, injured little girl.
I’m not saying that the customer is always right. Sometimes they’re not. What I’m saying is that you and your employees should always strive to resolve any issues in a calm and reasonable way. Ask the customer what they think would be a fair resolution. Remember that the benefits of resolving an issue to customer’s satisfaction almost always outweigh the cost of doing so. Even if you’re not a large corporation with deep pockets, you can afford to treat your customers well. And if you treat your customers with love and respect (yes, I said “love”), then they will love you back.