By Jim Sobeck
All companies make mistakes, but how you handle them is what separates the men from the boys. For example, the company that services my home HVAC system came to our home six times in a two-week period and still hadn’t fixed the furnace that heats the addition to our house. The problem was quite serious — the furnace was malfunctioning and spewing carbon monoxide. Luckily, our carbon monoxide detector alerted us. Otherwise, we might all have died in our sleep. If you don’t have a carbon monoxide detector, get one.
As this problem continued to go unresolved, I got more and more frustrated with this company. (We had had a service contract with this company for over 20 years. However, once this problem was fixed, we switched to another provider.) This episode was replete with broken promises, no-shows for appointments, unreturned phone calls, calls dropped when calling in to inquire about what was going on and, worst of all, a dispatcher who kept interrupting me every time I called and who threatened to hang up on me when I asked her to stop interrupting. I am not exaggerating; this was a nightmare.
So, how should you handle complaints? Below is what I have learned over the years:
- First, when a customer calls with a complaint… listen. Don’t interrupt; let the customer completely vent. Then ask, “Is there anything else I should know about this situation before I respond?”
- The next step is to immediately apologize for the incident and ask the customer what he or she would like you to do. Most times the customer just wants to vent and they don’t want anything. However, many times the customer will tell you what they want. If it is within reason, agree to the request immediately.
- If the customer asks for little or nothing, I still insist on giving them a credit so that I will exceed their expectations regarding the incident. Henry Kaiser, an early 20th-century industrialist, once said that “problems are opportunities in work clothes.” View every problem or complaint as an opportunity to make a customer for life, not something to dread. I find that when you exceed a customer’s expectations when they have a complaint, you not only solve the problem, but you create a loyal customer who will recommend you to others.
- Once the issue has been resolved, make sure that someone calls the customer a week or so later to ask if the problem is still fixed or if any further follow-up is needed. When you do this, you stand out as a company giving outstanding service. So few companies give outstanding service these days that even mediocre service stands out compared to the lousy service that most people get.
Another thing to remember is: No one ever won an argument with a customer. No matter how outrageous the customer is being, do not argue with the customer. Years ago, I heard the legendary motivational speaker and sales trainer Zig Ziglar say, “The next time you’re tempted to tell a customer off, remember that you can feed your ego or you can feed your family; you can’t feed them both.”
Jim Sobeck is CEO of New South Construction Supply, a building products distributor based in Greenville with nine locations in the Carolinas and Georgia. He is the author of “The Real Business 101: Lessons From the Trenches.”