Customers Don’t Expect You to be Perfect


They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.
Since no one succeeds without customer satisfaction it behooves owners of small and large businesses to do all they can to keep their customers. It costs five times as much to get a new customer as it does to keep an old one. So what to do when a customer is obviously upset? Ignore them? Only at your own peril, they’ll tell up to 20 friends not to do business with you. Ouch! Customers vote with their feet. I’ve had people tell me that they left shopping at a store in town 12 years ago because they were offended—they never went back. Prior to that time they spent $1,200 to $2,000 per year with that business. That’s a sales loss of between $14,000 and $24,000.

The main rule to remember is that problems exist when customers say they do—anytime the customer feels upset, dismayed, angered, or disappointed. And what constitutes a disappointment for one customer is absolutely “no problem” for another. No matter, you can’t wish (or order) a problem away because no reasonable person would be upset about that, or because it’s not your fault, or it’s not your company’s fault, or even because the customer made a mistake.

What should you do when the unavoidable slip up occurs and you have an upset customer? Follow these simple steps:

1. Pay attention. Often customers do not verbally tell you there is a problem. They tell you with their facial expression or body language. Astute customer service providers watch their customers as they interact with them. Always inquire if in doubt— “You look like you are having a problem,” an open-end statement that invites a response. Only a small number of customers actually complain, about five percent. Customers you solve problems for will tell 5 to 10 others and you have a 95 percent chance that they will be back, even if the problem wasn’t totally fixed to their satisfaction.

2. Apologize. An apology only works if it is personal, sincere, and timely. Obviously, personal means you do it person-to-person. Your body language and voice tone will tell the customer if you are sincere—so mean it or don’t do it. An apology three days late is not an apology. You need to do it when it immediately comes to your attention. If you think that you may be putting the business as risk for a lawsuit, then apologize for the situation. “I am sorry that you are hurt” is a comment that won’t get you into trouble.

3. Empathize. The customer wants to know that you care. When a customer complains, listen to them, and never interrupt. Ask questions to clarify what went wrong. By listening you show that you care. Keep a professional tone of voice. Demonstrate you care by how you communicate. “I would feel that way too,” for example.

4. Fix the problem. Take immediate steps to fix problems. The sense of urgency you bring to problem fixing tells your customers that recovery is every bit as important to you and your business as the initial sale.

5. Offer amends. This requires some judgment. If a customer brings a product back to you and travels an hour or so, you should offer something to make them feel that you appreciate their business and value their time. The amends may be a discount coupon made for the purpose of getting the customer to come back. Make certain that what ever you give them, it is not a promotion available to everyone. They will know and they will be offended and made to feel you are trying to con them.

6. Keep promises. What ever you do to fix the problem or to offer amends, do it. When you make a promise you put your integrity and the integrity of your business on the line.

I hope these tips help you keep your customers satisfied. The words you will always want to hear from a customer are, “I’ll be back.”

During the spring term I am teaching a course on Customer Service Management, if you are interested in students helping you to improve your service systems or to do customer service research for you, please call me at 383-7713.


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