Customer Service Is The Factor That Will Make Or Break Your Business

“How do you deserve a fortune?  Render fortunes of good service.” 
Jim Rohn

 Twenty-five or thirty years ago, very few people were talking about “customer service,” and even fewer people expected to get outstanding service.  People simply accepted whatever service they happened to get. 

 For example, when a man walked into a Topeka, Kansas Kwik Stop and asked for all the money in the cash drawer, he was disappointed to find out the store had almost no money to give him.  So the robber tied up the store clerk and worked the counter himself for three hours … until the police showed up and arrested him.

Then about fifteen years ago, the public started to expect … and in some cases … demand extraordinary service.  And many companies realized that the quality of their service may be the very factor that makes or breaks them.

My wife and I noticed that at a Naples, Florida restaurant a few years ago.  Our waiter came over to ask us what we’d like to drink.  About 20 minutes later he brought us the Diet Coke and iced tea we ordered.  Not exactly good service.  He then took our order.  We waited for another 50 minutes without him ever coming by our table or bringing us anything to nibble on while we waited for our first course.  Eventually, we called over the restaurant manager to ask about our waiter and our meal that seemed extraordinarily slow in getting to us. 

The restaurant manager assured us he would check on things and get back to us.  He did … 10 minutes later … to announce that our waiter had quit his job and walked out about an hour earlier.  Without any apology or any attempt to “make up” for the bad service we had been given, he brought us our meal and the bill. 

 Needless to say, we had every right to complain.  But like most of your unhappy customers, we didn’t bother to do so.  We just decided right then and there we would never go back to that restaurant.  Apparently lots of other customers made the same decision because some months later the restaurant went out of business.  And that was back in the good old days … before the recession … when people were spending lots of money eating out. 

If you’re in any kind of business, the LAST thing you want to happen is to have your unhappy customers NOT talk to you about their complaints.  This is what I suggest.

1.  Encourage complaints. 

It may not be what you want to do.  In fact it may seem like the last thing you want to do.  But you should be doing everything you can to encourage your clients to complain. A customer with an unexpressed complaint is more than likely to tell others about his bad service experience with you or your company.  And in a world of instant communication via the Internet and social media, the bad mouthing of your company will hurt your bottom line quicker than ever before. 

You see … unhappy customers that do not complain to you are on their way to moving their business somewhere else. You and your staff have to create a business environment that encourages your customers to be totally open and honest with you … about the good stuff as well as the bad.

 I cover this in a great more detail in my newest book, “The Service Payoff:  How Customer Service Champions Outserve And Outlast The Competition.” 

2.  Receive complaints professionally.

Once you’ve encouraged the complaints, it’s critically important HOW you listen and respond to those complaints.  In fact, how you respond to the complaint will go a long way in determining how satisfied your customer will be with the resolution of his/her problem.

Unfortunately, in some companies (not all), so-called “customer service departments” are used as holding tanks for complaints … staffed by indifferent employees … who consider the customer more of an inconvenience than anything else. 

And whatever their original intent might have been, hi-tech telephone systems are … more often than not … customer avoidance systems.  As such, they do a great job of avoiding you and your complaint.  I’ve even spoken to people who work on “customer complaint” or “customer help lines” who talk about how they place customers on hold for long periods of time while they grab a cup of coffee, text a friend, or do a number of other things instead of serving the customer. 

So while it’s true that Step 1 encourages you to “encourage complaints,” Step 2 says the first words out of your mouth (or your staff member’s mouth) are vitally important when you hear those complaints.  You need to use a conversation starter that indicates you really want to hear and understand your customer’s complaint.  Use such phrases as “Tell me about … What happened first …and after that … or … Fill me in on …” 

You see … the first words out of your mouth can make all the difference for you and your customer.  Start off on the wrong foot and things typically get worse.  Start off on the right foot, and it usually gets much easier to resolve the complaint.  

Then watch your vocal intonations.  It’s possible to say all the “right” things and still irritate your customer … if you project the wrong attitude.  And your attitude comes through in the way you say things. That’s why I teach people in my program, “The Service Payoff,” how to keep a positive attitude when they’re serving customers. 

You might even try this exercise.  Say “customer service is a wonderful opportunity” 8 times.  Each time you say it, try to demonstrate each of the following 8 attitudes: warmth, aloofness, excitement, depression, joviality, seriousness, interest, and disinterest.  Notice the changes in how you sound and the way you feel as you vary your tones.  And then remember that your tone makes a huge difference when you’re serving customers.

3.  Remove any possibility of confusion.

When a customer has a complaint, you can also bet that he/she has some strong feelings about that complaint.  And in situations like that, customers and customer service people can easily confuse facts and stories … and that causes additional difficulty.

In essence, a fact is a direct, objective, verifiable observation.   For example, the customer’s purchased item stopped working after 35 minutes of use.  That is a fact.  A story is someone’s feeling, judgment, or conclusion about that fact.  The customer may feel betrayed … that the company purposely made a poor quality product … or the company didn’t care about his time when he had to come back to the store to get a refund.

To get through this difficulty, you need to realize that the same facts can be used to tell many different stories.  You need to help the customer separate the “real” facts from the emotional “stories” being told.  And as a service provider, you need to ignore your own feelings of moral certainty that you’re right and the customer is wrong.  Stick with the facts … without emotion … to remove any possibility of confusion.

That’s what one couple had to do on Halloween. They were invited to a swanky costume party, but the Mrs. got a terrible headache and told her husband to go to the party alone. He protested, but she said she was going to take some aspirin and go to bed.  There was no need for him to miss out on a good time. 

So he took his costume and away he went. The wife, after sleeping soundly for about an hour, awakened without pain and, as it was still early, decided to go to the party.  And since her husband did not know what her costume was, she thought she would have some fun by watching her husband to see how he acted when she was not with him. She joined the party and soon spotted her husband cavorting around on the dance floor, dancing with every nice woman he could.

His wife sidled up to him and came on to him in a rather romantic manner.  Finally, he whispered a little proposition in her ear and she agreed … because after all … it was her husband.  So off they went for a little private romance.

Just before unmasking at midnight, she slipped away, went home, put the costume away and got into bed, wondering what kind of explanation he would make for his behavior.  She was sitting up reading when he came in, and she asked what kind of a time he had.  He said: “Oh, the same old thing. You know I never have a good time when you’re not there.”    
“Did you dance much?” she asked.
“I’ll tell you, I never even danced one dance. When I got there, I met Pete, Bill, and some other guys, so we went into the den and played poker all evening. But you’re not going to believe what happened to the guy I loaned my costume to.”

You see … whether it’s at home or in front of the customer, you can’t afford to have any confusion in the process of resolving customer complaints.  The rule is simple:  Clarify, clarify, clarify what is being said and what you’re hearing.

4.  Explain how you’re going to resolve the customer’s complaint.

For some customers, the first 3 steps are enough.  They just want someone to listen to their complaint or their story.  They don’t want you to do anything about it.  They just want to know that someone cares about their situation.

Most people, however, want you to DO something about their complaint.  You’ve got to tell them WHAT you’re going to do to next and when they can expect it to happen. 

Then tell them WHEN you’ll call them back. Make a commitment and honor the commitment.

And if for any reason you can’t honor the commitment, call them and let them know you’re still working on it.   Keep on following through and following up until the customer’s complaint has been resolved and all residual emotions have been cleared up.

Nobody likes to hear a complaint.  But there’s good news to be found in every customer complaint that is handled well.  The first bit of good news is that the customer’s complaint is a gift.  He is giving you a free consulting service.  She is telling you what needs to be done to fix the problem and keep her business. 

The second bit of good news, according to referral coach Bill Cates, is that “A relationship (any relationship) that’s had a problem – that’s been handled well – is a stronger relationship than one that’s never had a problem.”

Get good at encouraging candid communication from your customers and resolving their complaints.  Your customers will like you more.  You’ll feel better.  And your bottom line will be much healthier.

Action:  Write down 3 ways you can encourage your customers to be more open and honest with you.  Then try out these 3 methods to see which one works the best.