“I love tackling customer complaints,” said Karen, the customer service director of a retail company. “That sounds crazy, but doing a great piece of service recovery can transform somebody into a customer for life.”
Imagine you have been asked to improve customer service in your organisation. You will probably do three things.
First, you will probably start by improving the 4 Ps in the total service package that is offered to the customer. This means constantly improving the Product, People Skills, Procedures and Packaging.
Second, you will improve the customer’s journey. This will also mean improving the key ‘moments of truth’ involved in the customer doing business with your organisation.
Third, you may also want to educate the staff to use the 3 As approach to turning around customer complaints. They can apologise, accept and act. Let’s explore how this works in practice.
“The first step is simply to say: ‘Sorry’,” maintained Karen.
Frequently the customer has tried to complain after a bad experience, but they have been met by indifference or denial. Some companies exhaust the customer by shifting them from department to department until they get tired. Alternatively, the person at the call centre says: “You can speak to my manager, but they will give you the same answer.”
Karen explained: “We ask our staff to let the customer speak. They are to listen and offer a genuine apology. Frequently the customer becomes calmer. Moving onto the next stage, we try to understand their story.”
Customers who have bad experiences sometimes feel crazy. Trying to tell their story, they are told things like:
“Nobody else has complained … That has not happened before … Don’t raise your voice … If you get angry, I am going to end this call … If I did what you ask, then I would have to do it for every customer … It is not possible for me to direct your call to another department, you must ring them directly and start again at the back of the queue.”
Karen explained the approach she had outlined to her staff:
“Listen to the customer’s story. Accept their view about the experience. There are serial complainers, but most people simply want good service. Gather information about what happened and get concrete examples. Continue to listen, because they may still be upset.
"Once you have got the full story, in your own mind clarify three things. First, the things you can and can't do. Second, the things you are prepared and are not prepared to do. Third, Bearing these things in mind, think about how to, as far as possible, get a 'win-win'.
"Wherever possible, reassure the customer and promise to get back within a certain time frame. Give them your direct number so that they can contact you. Thank them for getting in touch with you. Then move onto the next stage.”
Great service-givers respond quickly and do what is necessary: a) To right the wrong; b) To satisfy the customer; c )To sometimes go that extra mile to turn the complainer into a customer for life. Great service-givers respond quickly and do what is necessary:
“Act to solve the problem and work to get a ‘Win-Win’,” maintained Karen. “But then comes the crucial part. Act to make sure that similar problems never happen again.
“In the old days many of us attended courses that introduced terms such as the customer’s journey and the moments of truth – the crucial times when customers form opinions about our company. We must keep revisiting these basics – designing our systems from the customer’s point of view.
“Winning back customers is exhilarating, but we should satisfy them in the first place. Nowadays our company make it easy for people to complain, because it is better to have a talking customer than a walking customer. Listening to their story helps us to improve our business.”
How can you educate people to be good at service recovery? One approach is to take them through the 3 As. You can bring these to life by doing exercises and role-plays. So you may wish to take the following steps.
First, invite people to think of a specific situation where they will need to do some customer recovery.
Second, invite them to describe the specific things they can do to apologise, accept and act.
Third, invite them to do realistic role-plays where they translate these principles into practice.
Try completing the following exercise. Making these things happen can turn people into customers for life.