Make the most of your mistakes

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This article appeared in the November 2013 issue of CRN magazine.

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Make the most of your mistakes
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In this uber-connected world, customer feedback and complaints are as unavoidable as changes of the weather. The customer doesn’t even have to make direct contact with the company, and chances are they won’t unless they want to get it sorted out. It’s more than likely they will take to the myriad of online forums to vent. With Twitter, Facebook and Yelp, they can get the word out quickly.

The truth is the customer is not always right but smart resellers would not get caught up in long, defensive arguments. They would see it as an opportunity, first to fix what went wrong, but secondly to build a quality relationship with that client.

According to research conducted by the Technical Assistance Programs (TARP) in the 1970s and published in 1980, 82 percent of customers who suffered a loss valued at over $100 bought again from the supplier if the problem was resolved quickly and 54 percent bought again if the problem was eventually fixed, albeit slowly.

As simple as it sounds, the most obvious answer to do is to shut up and listen. Some customers just need to vent without hearing a solution. They want someone to share their pain and distress.

Most customers do not want an apology for the error, even if they ask for it. They want an apology for the impact. The important part here is to acknowledge the customer’s problems. Empathy does not imply ownership of the problem. It’s important during that discussion to avoid contradicting what they say. They need to vent; contradicting them would only exacerbate the problem.

Next, find out exactly what they want. You may not be able to comply with their wishes but at least that provides a starting point for discussion and negotiation. Just suggesting a path forward will give the complainant a sense that you are taking them seriously. 

Stick to the positives, avoid the negatives and find something they agree with. Asking open-ended questions: “What can we do to help you?”; “Apart from that, was everything else satisfactory?” 

This technique will not only divert focus from emotional frustration. The right questions can also generate copious information about the problem at hand and help arrive at the appropriate solution.

There is one particular four letter word that can provide the reseller with a lot of information about what to do next. It’s a simple word:  what would you think would be fair. The word “fair” encourages people to think about what is reasonable, particularly if it’s put in a way where the reseller is working in partnership with the complainant. They are more likely to come up with some solution or way to deal with the problem.

Once some sort of way forward has been reached, it’s important to make sure the customer knows what will happen next.  Some trade-offs might be used to placate the customer. These are particularly effective when the resolution of the problem is outside of the reseller’s control. For example, a voucher for another purchase, an upgrade to a higher level of service or a discount would qualify as trade-offs. However, trade-offs are not good policy as a response to a customer complaint. The best option is fixing the problem. 

In today’s digital age, it is important for resellers to monitor conversations on the web. Make sure all the bases are covered and no complaint goes unnoticed.  Many companies use Twitter to respond.  

Of course, direct communication is always the best way to deal with the issue. If you have the customer’s contact information, deal with the issue on a personal basis. When that happens, it’s best the reseller start out with something positive by thanking the customer for bringing the problem to their attention. They should then identify what went wrong, see how to fix it and stop it from happening again. It’s always a good idea to follow that up with verbal communication. 

Smart resellers shouldn’t welcome customer feedback – it’s an opportunity to build closer links.

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