What should you do when customer confidence is compromised?

Oct. 3, 2011

Gaining customer confidence is tough enough; re-gaining customer confidence is a whole different animal.

Every company must have a “Customer Satisfaction Policy.” The fact that a company may not have a written Customer Satisfaction Policy is a policy statement in and of itself.

I’ve written a number of articles over the past year about the importance of what I call “counter Intelligence” (effective communication, proper greeting, preparedness, product knowledge, phone skills), and a variety of other important customer-service techniques specific to the tire and service aftermarket.

When things go well, all is well, but there are seemingly millions of things a day that can go wrong at the sales counter, and when they do, there is a loss of confidence.

Re-gaining customer confidence is critical in our business. There are a lot of tough businesses in this world, but customers take their cars and their money very seriously, as you know!

This month I’d like to outline some basic customer satisfaction procedures/techniques that can and will help restore customer confidence when it has been compromised for any one of a million reasons.

Before I get specific and start outlining a few points, I’d like to say that I have held a variety of positions of responsibility in a company that was founded by a very famous race car driver. He shared his name alongside the company’s name and it appeared on all the buildings.

He felt very strongly about customer service and resolution to customer complaints. Everybody in the company knew about “Our Promise.”

When customer confidence was compromised, “Our Promise” dictated that we resolve the issues quickly, professionally and to the customer’s satisfaction. “Our Promise” was a big part of the DNA of the company. It was posted on large, framed posters in customer waiting areas, along with the phone number to the home office. With over 50 stores and thousands of customers each month, there were millions of things that could go wrong and, of course, despite our best efforts, stuff happened.

I personally have spoken with hundreds of customers over the decades, and I’ve had to learn a thing or two along the way. Maybe some of these points and perspectives will help you, as well.

1. The sooner you contact the customer, address the problem and get working on a solution, the easier it is to resolve.

 2. The faster you contact and resolve the complaint, the more time and money you will save.

 3. Procrastination is a quagmire; indifference is deadly; remember that customers like to tell their friends about the service they received.

4. Customers don’t always get the facts right; you have to listen carefully. Some customers lie.

5. Most customers want your help; others just want to complain; some are unreasonable.

6. Most complaints are resolvable; some are black holes; some customers need to be fired.

7. During the negotiation of each complaint, there are “make-or-break moment(s),” sometimes you just have to cut your losses.

 8. Something that helped me a lot was this advice a colleague gave me, and I quote, “It’s not about who’s right, it’s about what’s right.”

9. In the overall scheme of things, complaints are about communication and a person’s need to be heard, to be understood, and their right to reasonable service.

10. If you make it personal, or try to “win,” you’ll be sure to lose!

[PAGEBREAK]Let’s expound on these points.

Point 1. When customers are dissatisfied, most want to talk about it right away. If you delay your response beyond a reasonable time, you will set yourself back and start on the defensive. This is not good for the customer or yourself.

Point 2. A delayed response will cost extra time and money because you will end up trying to justify a late response along with resolving the primary issue. This doubles the number of issues and greatly increases the chances of compromising on one or both points, which will cost extra time and money.

Point 3. Timing is critical . You’re behind the old eight ball. Quick and professional responses decrease the chances of bad word-of-mouth.

Point 4. Listening, affirming and assuring will help put the customer more at ease and will help you better determine fact from fiction. I have listened to customers rant for 20 minutes only to discover they actually had the work done at a competitor.

Point 5. Often with truly unreasonable customers, it’s easier to determine a course of action due to the fact their demands can be so ridiculous, the answer is simply no!

Point 6. When I worked for the famous race car driver, we would do almost anything within reason to resolve a complaint;  we often went the extra mile (no pun intended). However, from time to time, we cut our losses and “fired” the customer.

Point 7. Again, listening is critical. Often the customer will help you determine the extent you are willing to go.

Point 8. Tire and auto repair professionals make mistakes. Repairing cars is not an exact science; sometimes “ya just gotta eat it.”

Point 9. Don’t forget, it’s  not all about fixing the car, it’s about helping people.

Point 10. If you  push your point of view too hard, you can turn the customer against you and you’ll have lost the attempt to regain confidence. If you get on the defensive, it can start a war of words driven by emotion or ego, and you lose.

Remember that you are trying to “earn back” the customer’s confidence and, of course, their future business, of which I don’t have to explain the benefits.

It was very difficult for me to handle customer complaints at first. I was defensive. I had real trouble differentiating between a customer’s anger and frustration at the situation versus their approach and attitude toward me.

Once I learned to listen and make each complaint less personal, it became much easier, less stressful and better for everyone. I had to learn that I was not trying to win, but help — and to regain a customer’s confidence.

Wayne Williams is president of ExSell Marketing Inc., a “counter intelligence” firm based in La Habra, Calif. He can be reached at [email protected].