Posted by: Ron Loza | November 24, 2010

One Powerful Technique to Satisfy an Unhappy Customer

In my years of teaching and training new employees on the art of customer service, I ask them to describe a situation where they complained to the management about their unpleasant experience. I further ask them to describe a situation when they had a bad experience and didn’t complain. It is uncanny how universal this is when I ask, “When you didn’t complain, did you ever shop at that store again?” The overwhelming answer is NO! I follow-up with, “When you did complain did you shop at that store again?” The overwhelming answer is YES!

A complaining customer is a customer who wants to return, who wants to be a loyal customer, and is giving you the opportunity to make things right as opposed to the unhappy customer who walks out that door never to return. The complaining customer is handing you a fabulous opportunity to gain a lifetime customer.

Let’s take a step back and lay a foundation on why we see certain behaviors from customers and employees that may lead to a less than perfect experience.  It is so ingrained in our society that people, especially strangers, are evil. The mainstream media bombards us every day with body counts and kidnappings. From the time we are old enough to understand, our parents tell us not to talk to “strangers.” It’s no wonder customers and employees inherently distrust each other, they are strangers!

When it comes to resolving a complaint and the customer and employee have told their stories, it often seems that the customer and employee were not in the same room at the time of the problem. Stories often conflict. I am reminded of my favorite quote from the show Mythbusters, “I reject your reality and substitute my own.” This is a very real statement in business and relationships. Think about some disagreement you may have had in a relationship. One person sees the situation one way and the other sees it completely different. I’m no therapist and I don’t really care why this happens I just know it does. Each party firmly believes what they believe…it is “real” to them. So somewhere in these mutually exclusive stories is the truth.

But does the truth matter? If you focus on the “story” and who is to blame you miss the point which is 1) to teach your employee better decision making skills, and 2) to gain a loyal customer.

I realize this sounds far too simple but I can attest through years of applying this technique that it has worked 100% of the time, with fabulous results, and even with the most irate customer. First, I listen (repeat “listen”) to the customer. I do not speak, sometimes for as long as 15 minutes, until the customer has said everything he or she needs to say. I do not engage in a “he said, she said” conversation. In fact, I do not even acknowledge what the customer just said. I simply ask the customer, “What would you like me to do to make the situation right for you?”

Now you may think this would open Pandora’s box but it is quite the opposite. I have found that the request of the customer is ALWAYS reasonable. In fact, more often than not, I was prepared to give more!

One example of a potentially serious situation was when I received a phone call from an irate customer (I own coffee shops). He called me to say the lid on his coffee cup popped off while he was driving (can you say McDonalds lawsuit?) and he spilled his drink on himself and suffered third degree burns. He also informed me that he was going to sue me. He yelled for about ten minutes then started to calm down. With a slight deviation in my script I said, “I am very sorry that happened to you.” (the Denny’s script) “We use thermometers in our stores so I can say with absolute certainty that you cannot receive a third degree burn. What would you like me to do to make this situation right for you?”

Take note, I didn’t respond to his story and even though I was sure he was lying to some degree I only brought up the thermometers but left the rest of his story alone. At this point he never asked for anything he only told me he was going to sue me. I was prepared for detailing his car, dry cleaning his cloths and refunding his money but surprisingly his response was, “Will you send two free drink coupons?” Problem solved.

I am sure there are situations, if serious enough, where this wouldn’t work but don’t underestimate the power of this technique because it allows your customer to be a part of the solution. You would be surprised how satisfied a customer is when you accept their solution.

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