In this day and age, where processes are automated up to the gills and there is precious little human involvement between consumers and companies, when something goes wrong, it requires even more effort to retain that customer for longer. Why is it then, that so many companies I speak to discourage the words “I’m sorry”.
Here’s a little story. Some time ago, my wife and I arranged for our store card to take out a certain amount the following month. They said “no problem”. Then, while looking through our bank statement, we discovered that the store in question had taken out the whole amount owed. Well, my wife was straight on the phone. The girl at the other end understood the problem, saw where it went wrong, and even refunded the money plus £30, but chose to omit two little words. These two little words represent a degree of ownership and accountability, which is desperately missing in the contact centres of today.
Say I’m sorry
It’s like they’ve been removed from the agent’s vocabulary! I find it hypocritical that in one breath, companies thump the table and demand the business takes a stronger approach to ownership and being accountable when things go wrong, yet refuse to adjust these small message changes at the sharp end.
So, from an emotional standpoint, being able to say sorry helps to build a stronger customer relationship. I’m a strong advocate of taking advantage of these “moments of truth”. This is when a company truly demonstrates the value it possesses to its customers. It is the formula for creating longer-lasting customers and more delighted ones as well.
Rather walk out than say I’m sorry?
So, how about your agents? How are you going to coach them on it? I can tell you from experience that I have seen agents threaten to walk out of the job rather than apologise to a customer. Once again, it is a problem with ownership. You can understand the position of the agent, why apologise for something that was not directly his or her fault? The way to win these people is simply to turn over their way of thinking. It’s not about them personally. The agent needs to see things from the customer’s perspective. If they were involved in a mistake, how would they like to be treated? What if the person involved was their child or partner? Wouldn’t they insist on an apology?
A complaint is a gift
The new way of thinking is that a complaint is a very important piece of feedback and it should be treated as such by your company.
Top tips for complaint handling
1. Establish a philosophy or ethos for the operation. An example of this is: “We believe that each customer that complains is giving us an opportunity to make things right. That they have enough faith in our company to help them resolve their problem, regardless of who is at fault. We also take the attitude that customers are giving us feedback on our product or service that we may have overlooked. If we incorporate this feedback into our approach, we will be better able to meet their needs and thereby be more successful in our venture.”
2. Thank the customer for the complaint and qualify it by saying something about how hearing the complaint will allow you to better address the problem. “Thank you for telling me, I’m pleased you told me so I can fix this for you” … or simply, “Thank you for letting me know”. Explain to the customer why you appreciate the complaint.
3. Do not immediately apologise, and when you do apologise, use the word “I” rather than “We”.
4. Do not use the words “but” and “however” in your conversation with the customer.
5. Ask the customer what it will take to meet their needs or to satisfy them. Or ask them if they will be satisfied if you do the specific thing for them that is related to their problem. Sometimes they only want to let you know something happened; they don’t necessarily want anything from you.
6. Do not say “I need to check that with a manager” to the caller. It immediately neuters the agent in the caller’s eyes. If the agent does have to check with a manager, politely place the caller on hold.
7. Promise to do something about it quickly. Give the caller your name and an extension (this gives the customer a feeling of control). Give an air of urgency to the call. Rapid responses say you are serious about service recovery to the customer.
8. Correct the mistake as quickly as possible. Research has proven that the sooner a complaint is resolved with the customer the greater the satisfaction and the more likely the customer will remain buying from you.
9. Check customer satisfaction. This can take the form of a very short customer satisfaction survey.
Gene Reynolds is a consultant at Corporate Communications (Europe)