As the global recession deepens, many people are worried about their financial future and consequently are under significant stress. People under stress are frequently prone to overreact to simple problems and be less courteous than one might expect.

It is important that employees, officers and representatives of your company do not contribute to the problem. When training dealers, I am frequently asked for advice on how to keep good relationships with customers and competitors.

 

The Consumer Bill of Rights

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke to the US Congress and outlined his vision for four basic consumer rights. The original four were expanded to the six that are today recognized by consumer rights advocates:

 

  • The right to be safe.
  • The right to choose freely.
  • The right to be heard.
  • The right to be informed.
  • The right to education.
  • The right to service.

 

Your customers expect to be treated fairly, honestly and with professionalism.

 

Be a good neighbor

Your business is physically a member of the local community, but thanks to Internet technology your business is part of an ever-shrinking global village. You, your company and all the employees are constantly under scrutiny by the community.

 

Be a good neighbor.

 

  • Keep your building and surrounding property clean, safe and organized.
  • Keep your vehicles clean and well maintained.
  • Ensure that you and your employees dress in a professional manner.
  • Maintain appropriate standards of grooming and personal hygiene.
  • Train all employees to drive carefully and courteously.
  • Be actively involved in the local community.
  • Be careful of what you and employees post in chat-rooms, blogs and on social networking sites – your customers are watching.
  • Be on time or appropriately early for all appointments.
  • Be polite, cheerful, courteous and helpful.

 

Under-promise and over-deliver

If you truly care about your clients, you should be concerned with their immediate and long-term satisfaction. Take a careful look at your marketing and advertising…are you making promises that you can’t fulfill?

 

Are people being misled by your advertising? Look at your marketing from the perspective of an end-user and be sure that you can and do perform as promised.

 

Salespeople should be periodically audited to ensure that their approach, presentation and closing techniques are ethical and customer-oriented.

 

Make it easy to complain

Give your customers ample opportunity to express their frustration to you. Provide a feedback link on your website. Add verbiage to work orders like “if you didn’t have an EXCELLENT experience today, please call” and provide a toll-free number to call for customer-service issues.

 

Designate someone in your organization to be responsible for customer satisfaction. Empower that person to make the necessary decisions to keep your customers completely satisfied while protecting your organization.

 

You can’t please everyone all the time

Regardless of how hard you try, you will disappoint somebody, somewhere; that is an immutable fact of doing business. If a customer comes to your place of business to complain, take the time to listen to them.

 

If an upset customer calls, empower your employees to transfer the client to someone who can best help them as quickly as possible. Many upset customers simply want to be heard, and the best thing you can do to acknowledge them is simply to listen. When you receive a customer complaint, you should act quickly to understand the problem, present solutions and resolve the issue.

 

Angry customers

Sometimes, even with your best efforts, someone will remain angry, belligerent or unreasonable. The acronym CARS will help you remember the four keys to defusing most hostile encounters:

  • Care – Demonstrate your genuine care and concern for the customer by listening.
  • Acknowledge – Let the angry customer know that you understand and empathize with their situation.
  • Refocus – Distill the emotions out of the situation and refocus on the issues that need to be resolved.
  • Solve – Solve the problem by providing information, suggesting solutions, being helpful and following through.

 

Be especially careful to avoid phrases and words like ‘I don’t care’ or ‘whatever.’ Regardless of your intentions, you will most likely be misunderstood by the customer as being uncaring and insensitive.

 

Think carefully about what you say and how you say it.

 

Self-control

Above all, maintain self-control when dealing with upset customers. Whenever you have anger, abuse or strongly negative emotion directed towards you, it is a natural human tendency to respond with your own anger and frustration.

 

This is the worst thing that you can do. When you become angry, you are losing self-control and are dangerously close to escalating the situation.

 

Situations escalate when people respond emotionally to logical problems. The  typical end-result of an escalation is an even angrier customer; the worst-case result is physical violence or threats of violence. None of these are desirable outcomes.

 

Don’t let people ‘push your buttons’. Sometimes, angry people will resort to profanity, blasphemy or making derogatory comments about your ancestry. These are merely their way of ‘acting-out’ and getting attention – never take this kind of abuse personally.

 

If you find that your interaction with an angry customer is causing you to get angry also, slow down and disengage from the situation. Disengagement is like a ‘time-out’; it is an opportunity for both of you to compose yourselves and hopefully calm down.

 

You can disengage by telling them you need to ‘check the customer file’ or ‘talk to a supervisor’. Two to three minutes is usually all that is needed to deescalate more confrontations.

 

Most normal people will usually notice during this time that they have overreacted and possibly even apologize to you.

 

Resolution

Reasonable people will accept your solution to remedy the situation and you will have succeeded in helping another customer have an excellent experience with your company. After problems have been resolved, they no longer need to be discussed and bringing them up again simply causes negative emotions to surface.

 

Remember, you will be judged by how you resolve the problems you have with customers, not necessarily by the problems themselves.

 

Competitors

During tough times, there is a strong temptation for competitors to engage in price wars and less-than-ethical business practices. Never stoop to the level of others who engage in unethical activities; reach out to competitors and keep the communication channels open.

 

Just because you’re competitors doesn’t mean that you can’t be friendly. Involve yourselves in organizations like the WQA and other local trade organizations where you can interact and become acquainted on neutral ground. Regardless of whether your widget is better than the competitor’s, or vice-versa, you’re all in business to serve your customers by providing them with better water quality to improve their lifestyle.

 

Petty fighting and unsavory practices sully the entire industry. Be a bright, shining example of integrity, professionalism and customer excellence.

 

About the author—

Standard ending…no non-profit verbiage

 

Pull Quotes–

Salespeople should be periodically audited to ensure that their approach, presentation and closing techniques are ethical and customer-oriented.

 

Designate someone in your organization to be responsible for customer satisfaction. Empower that person to make the necessary decisions to keep your customers completely satisfied while protecting your organization.

 

Be especially careful to avoid phrases and words like ‘I don’t care’ or ‘whatever.’ Regardless of your intentions, you will most likely be misunderstood by the customer as being uncaring and insensitive.

 

http://www.wcponline.com/pdf/0905Reyneke.pdf