“Problem customers”, Gold, and Fools

There are as many ways to handle “problem customers” as you can think of.

Every single business out there has to do it at some time or another and sure, sometimes the complaint isn’t justified but that is typically irrelevant.

What you have to keep in mind is this: Feedback is GOLDEN and how you handle it makes all the difference in the world to your business over the long term.

You’ll hear various studies stating that a happy customer tells 1, 2, or 3 other people and that an UNhappy customer tells 7 or 10, 11, etc. The exact numbers don’t really matter much. The bottom line is that 1 unhappy customer can undo anywhere from 2 to 11 times the good that 1 happy customer does for you .

Will you ever completely avoid unhappy customers? Not hardly, so let’s talk about how to work with them.

A few things to do with the upset client:

  • Make sure they know that you understand that they’re mad, and that you’d probably be mad as well, if you were in their situation. Don’t just think it…TELL THEM SO.
  • Tell them that you are going to get to the bottom of the issue and do something about it. People are so used to being ignored and told that “call volumes are unexpectedly high and your call is important to us” that they simply assume that they are going to get yanked around these days. One of the easiest and best ways to differentiate yourself is to avoid treating your clients like total crap. I know it seems obvious, but sit and think about the experiences you’ve had as a customer in the last week. Enough said. So few are doing this right that you can easily stand out from the crowd.
  • Tell them you are sorry they had the problem and thank them for bringing it to your attention. Remind them that most people just go somewhere else and never report a problem, and that you appreciate that they cared enough to let you know about it and give you a 2nd chance to fix it. As I mentioned earlier, this is GOLDEN. What you do with them next determines who gets the gold.
  • Ask them what they are expecting from you. Don’t get wordy or pull out the thesaurus and throw $50 words at them. Just ask, plain and simple: What can I do to make you happy? It might not be as much as you expect. How you handle this part of the situation often has long term rewards. Do more than what they expected, do what you’d hope that someone else would do for you, and it’ll turn that client from ticked off to loyal in a heartbeat.
  • Next, DO IT. Implement a solution. Do it quickly, preferably before they leave your store or office.
  • Follow up. Call them a few days later and make sure the solution worked out for them. Send them a card a couple weeks later thanking them for the opportunity to resolve the issue, and note that their feedback is one of the things that makes your company better. Follow up.

Jeffrey Gitomer says this about satisfied customers:

Ask yourself: “Would you rather have a satisfied customer, or a loyal customer?”

If you aren’t sure of the difference, ask yourself this question: “Would you rather that your spouse was satisfied, or loyal?”

Suddenly, there’s quite a difference between those 2 words, isn’t there? 🙂

Don’t you want customers who wouldn’t think of going somewhere else? Loyal customers.

Bear with me, I have a story about one of these complainer -> loyal customer transformations.

Years ago, I had a new client in PA who was kind of a grumpy guy. More often than not, when we talked on the phone, he seemed angry about something. For a bit, I just assumed that he was one of those people who is always mad.

I turned out that part of his frustration was that he was still annoyed with the vendor we bought out, then upgraded to software we offered that solved the same problem. As is natural, he always compared the new one to the old one. He liked the new one, but still, it was different (completely different, in fact).

Not long after his first big upgrade, his first big explosion came. Naturally, it came while I was on the phone with him. He was used to being ignored (perhaps because of his mood) by tech support at other companies, but I took care of him every time he called. This turned him from constantly annoyed at us (just because) to a true ally. He’d bring friends to us and suggest to them that they buy our software, telling them that no one else took care of him and his business like we did.

Later, I met him at a trade show, shared a cold one (or 3) with him and got to know him a little better. The reality was that he, like many in his line of work, was very, very passionate about what he does. He took his work very personally (note the name of this blog<g>).

And the next week when he’d call, he’d often be grumpy.

For the next several years, he was still mildly annoyed when we’d talk to him on the phone, but we had figured out by then that it wasn’t at US. One day, my tech support manager was on the phone with him and he was getting madder and madder. Before long, he had worked himself into a frenzy. Not because of us, just because that was just him and his passion. Sometimes another vendor was the issue and he’d complain to us because we didn’t offer a solution that replaced that company’s product. This time, he was so loud that I could hear this conversation from the adjacent office. I overhead my tech support manager say “Bill, is there something I’ve done to make you angry?” (Of course, Bill isnt his real name). A great question.

He says “No”, immediately goes back to room temperature and resumes the conversation. Passionate people exude their passion in different ways.

The point of my rambling? The worst, biggest pain in the backside of a client is the one that can be the most valuable IF you take the proper steps to cool them off, address their problem (making it YOURS) and assure them that you’re on their side (assuming that you are). I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen, or made, this happen. Every time, it turns the person from what can seem like a mortal enemy into one of the most vocal, loyal clients around.

So the next time that problem client calls,  think about how you can blow them away when solving their problem. Make THAT guy happy and he’ll never stop talking positively about you. You can be sure that lots of people know he tests the businesses he works with. Those same people will hear about the fact that you make him happy in a world where few seem to.

The fools?  The business owner that just hates dealing with this guy because he’s “such a pain”. They don’t know what a diamond in the rough he really is, nor how valuable he can be.