Turn Complaints Around: When things go wrong, listen to your customer

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Had a lesson in customer service the other day. Nothing to do with trucking, but an extraordinary example of how to respond to complaints.

My infinitely better half was cutting a tomato with a large and very expensive knife. A Henckels knife to be exact, a quality tool that would normally last a lifetime. About 20 years old in this case, the blade just snapped in half, mid-cut, though no excessive force was being applied. Without naming the brand, she posted a picture of it on Instagram because it was such a weird thing to see.

Moments later a friend saw it and commented, naming the brand. Perhaps 2 minutes after that, Henckels themselves commented. Amazing! Not only did they apologize, they instructed my wife on how to reach them and get a replacement, free of charge of course, because such knives do come with a lifetime warranty.

Talk about being responsive!

This experience reminded me just how easy it is to win over an unhappy customer. My wife didn’t have time to get unhappy, just astonished, before the knifemaker was on the case. You’ll probably never get the chance to be so quick off the mark. Who on earth is that good? But the faster you are, the sooner you’ll have the chance to turn complaint into praise.

Sometimes, however, you just can’t win. No matter what you say, that complaining customer remains unhappy. And maybe even takes his business elsewhere. In any commercial enterprise, there’s nothing worse.

But does it have to happen that way? No, almost never, experts say, if you go about things thoughtfully and by all means calmly. Like most challenges, success here is a matter of that elusive quality we call common sense, and of controlling the damage by simply listening.

So let the poor soul rant and then start from there. If you’re very good, you’ll turn an enemy into a friend because most people won’t want to leave you. They won’t want to acknowledge having made a mistake by connecting with you in the first place. So give them new reason to think they were right in choosing you and your company.

Use the moment as an opportunity.

“When a customer complains, you should be grateful,” writes John Tschohl, an international service strategist. “Why? Because that customer is giving you the opportunity to make things right and to retain her business. Research shows that only about 4% of customers will tell you when they have a problem. The other 96% simply won’t do business with you again. Instead, they quietly fume and take their business elsewhere. They also will tell an average of 10 other people about the problem they had with your organization.”

Those numbers are pretty compelling, and scary, too. Think about that: nearly every unhappy customer won’t tell you that he’s dissatisfied, let alone explain why he’s ticked. He’ll just split, and you may never know why. Damned hard to move forward if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong.

So maybe you should simply ask your customer every once in a while? Maybe even demand, in a kind way, a frank exchange of views, as they say. Make it clear that you want to know, that you don’t take his continuing business for granted.

Success comes in anticipating your customer’s hopes and fears, answering his questions before he asks them, and making every aspect of his connection with you transparent. Leave him no room to doubt, and if you screw up, start the repair by admitting your failure, listening to what your customer has to say about it, and then acting — that’s obviously crucial — to fix it.

And maybe take a lesson from Henckels.

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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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