Roots of complaints
Unmet expectations are behind nearly
every customer complaint, says Barbara
Khozam, author of How Organizations Deliver
BAD Customer Service And Strategies that
Turn It Around! (Barbara Khozam, 2011, not
available at Costco). For instance, if a client
expects a call back in 30 minutes but doesn’t
hear from the company for hours, the customer becomes annoyed.
Customers who speak up actually do small
businesses a favor by communicating instead
of remaining silently unhappy. Janelle Barlow, a
Costco member and co-author of A Complaint
Is a Gift, (Berrett-Koehler, 2008, not available
at Costco) says, “The customer doesn’t have to
tell you what went wrong—they can simply
walk away—so it’s a gift when they take the
time to tell you what they didn’t like.”
Instead of getting defensive, small-busi-
ness owners should sincerely thank the cus-
tomer for bringing an issue to their attention,
Khozam explains. Responses can include fix-
ing the issue without additional charge, offer-
ing a refund or offering a complimentary extra
to show goodwill. In addition, simply acknowl-
edging the inconvenience can go a long way.
; Set expectations early by making
business policies clear and upfront.
; Be proactive and take action at the
first sign of discontent.
; Handle the issue quickly.
; Thank the customer for bringing the
problem to your attention.
; Listen to the customer and show
; Ask how the customer would like to
see the situation resolved.
By Carrie Madren
CUSTOMER COMPLAINTS MAY bring
headaches, but they also bring opportunity.
Whether they feel they received sub-par service or made a purchase that underper-formed, unsatisfied customers can become
repeat clients when small-business owners
Oftentimes, simply fixing the issue, no
matter who’s at fault, can mean more business later.
That was the case with a longtime client
of Krystal Wells, a Costco member and
owner of The Other Woman, a cleaning service in Portland, Oregon. The customer
wanted her home cleaned before she moved
away, but was unhappy with Wells’ staff’s
final cleaning. Wells spent half an hour of her
own time cleaning to correct the mistake.
The customer’s Realtor was so impressed
with Wells’ dedication that she referred other
clients to her.
“I ended up winning in the long run by
all the extra business that I received just by
doing the proper business thing and fixing
our mistake, even for a client that was moving far away,” Wells says.
The proper reaction
Whatever your response, patience and
empathy are crucial.
Amy Baxter, a Costco member, doctor
and CEO of Atlanta-based Buzzy4Shots.com,
which makes a bee-shaped needle pain
reliever called Buzzy, decided to swap paint
for labels on her products to allow for more
flexibility with the labels. But a customer
whose daughter had arthritis was disappointed with the new version and wanted an
original painted Buzzy to help her daughter
deal with frequent shots. Baxter mailed the
last painted item she had on hand, attached to
a display poster, and gained a lifelong supporter. “She wrote me back and sent a picture
of her child, and shares [about] Buzzy with
the juvenile arthritis community,” Baxter says.
Speed is of the essence, too. John Burger,
a Costco member in Rowlett, Texas, monitors
his online store, Playfully Ever After ( www.
playfullyeverafter.com), daily for customer
comments. When a customer leaves a negative rating online, he and his wife, Adrienne,
get to work. Once, a customer throwing a
Rapunzel-themed birthday party in two days
received a Cinderella costume by mistake and
left a negative comment online. Burger
quickly spotted the comment and shipped the
correct item overnight free and threw in a
couple of princess hair bows. The now-satis-fied client changed the feedback to positive
and bought another dress, Burger reports.
“Some customers may try to take advantage of this type of generous customer service, but we have not come across that yet,”
Know when to fold ‘em
Though most customer complaints are
reasonable, not all can be fixed: If a customer
wants your store to open on Sundays and you
don’t want to, for instance, kindly tell the person it’s just not something you’re prepared to
offer, Barlow advises.
Finally, if you sense a customer is unhappy,
pull the customer aside before he or she leaves
and ask how to make the situation right. Says
Khozam, “Teach your staff to be proactive.” C
www.carriemadren.com, is a
freelance writer based in northern Virginia.