Once you know exactly what’s wrong you can start looking for a solution.
Voyles says once a customer has finished airing their grievances it’s a good idea to briefly reiterate their feelings back to them to ensure you’re both on the same page. If you were attentive when they spoke and took succinct notes this might not be necessary, he says, but it can put the customer at ease because it shows them you were listening.
When you offer your first thoughts on a solution, it’s important to be descriptive, but also composed and professional, says Brian Mulshine, director of operations technology and innovation at Rush Enterprises. Defensively responding to an angry customer with more anger significantly reduces the likelihood for a quick resolution, and can have long-lasting consequences.
“You have to be professional. That is just so critical,” he says. “[In training] I always tell my people to lead with facts and evidence. Talk about what happened and what needs to be fixed. It’s not personal and shouldn’t be treated as such.”
You also need to be fair. Downplaying a customer’s problem and/or your impact on said problem will get you nowhere.
This is why it’s so important to let a customer speak first, says Voyles. It allows you to hear everything they have to say so you can formulate a response that best fits their needs.
“Most situations are resolved by listening and understanding, then responding as necessary,” says Calhoun.
It’s also important to be willing to compromise. A customer who has lost freight business due to a mistake in your facility likely expects to be compensated for their downtime. You have to be prepared for that, and be willing to accept that demand.
But you shouldn’t feel obligated to refund a customer’s money after every complaint. As mentioned above, not every complaining customer is looking for a discount on their bill. Others want you to know they were disappointed with their service, or felt your operation handled their business poorly.
Calhoun says those complaints are invaluable, because they give your business a chance to get better.
“I’m the absolute worst kind of customer because when something goes bad for me I’m going to pay my bill quietly, and make a note of where I just left because it will never, ever happen again,” he says. “I will never go back.
“So anytime a complaint is escalated to me I always tell the customer ‘Thank you. Thank you for voicing your concern, and letting us know where we can improve.’”
Adds Williams; “A lot of times it’s not about the money. A lot of times the most important piece [of a solution] is ‘What are you going to do to keep this from happening again?’”
And when both sides finally agree to a solution, write it down. This gives both sides a step-by-step timeline for resolution and minimizes the risk of an angry flare up before the job is done.
“Think about any relationship you have with a customer, and how much smoother it is with transparency and accountability,” says Michael Riemer, vice president of products and channel marketing at Decisiv. “You build trust [with customers] when you’re transparent about what you’re going to do.”