Even Stickier Customer Issues

Customer Resists Changes
Customer Problem ResolvedLet’s say that your customer or client has been receiving atypical treatment from your company and now resists conforming to the established company policies that apply to all other customers. You are clear and firm about the need to adjust, yet still mindful of the customer’s well being and happiness. When you discover inconsistencies in how customers are treated, look for ways to blend the current practices into the preferred. You must acknowledge the customer’s valid distress and confusion and reinforce the customer’s value to the company. Suggest a transition plan and gain customer acceptance.

Suggested Response – “Ms. Walton, I see the discrepancy you have pointed out. You’re a valuable customer and we’d like to keep your business, so what I’d like to do is continue our past arrangement with you for this order and the next one. However, beginning with the third order [approximate date], the standard procedures would then apply. Will that give you enough time to make the adjustments in your procedures?” [Design your custom response.]

Preferential Treatment
At some point, a customer or client will make a special request. In your mind, you may consider this as the customer requesting preferential treatment; however, in the customer or client’s mind, he or she is requesting an accommodation. For example, a customer may want an order, repair or some other service provided before others in line or who may have had an earlier appointment. The first thing you need to do in this instance is to let the customer or client know that you are very interested in meeting their needs and clarify your reasons for suggesting a solution other than what the customer or client requested. This lets the customer know that you want to do what is asked, yet also explains why you may have to consider other alternatives.

Suggested Response – “Mr. Cunningham, here’s how I may be able to resolve your issue without being unfair to our other clients who have been waiting or who called earlier.” [Design your custom response.]

Unauthorized Work
A customer or client may request you to perform some work or a service that is beyond the contract or service agreement. The customer may not be mindful of the verbatim term of a contract. From the customer’s perspective, they simply have a problem and want to get it resolved. You definitely do not want to create an unhappy customer or client. Confirm that you want to help the customer but also want to avoid creating an additional problem.

To avoid a misunderstanding, restate the customer’s request in your own words to be sure that you understand what is needed and begin to formulate a response. You also need to be very careful in this type of circumstance because you may inadvertently create a billable event for the customer. If the customer is later surprised by a bill, you may have exchanged one problem for another. Explain your procedure and get agreement to the conditions before proceeding.

Suggested Response – “Mrs. Parm, I would happy to take a look at this problem. If we find that the solution requires billing, you can you preauthorize it or would you prefer us to call you first?” [Design your custom response.]

Playing Defense
Envision this scenario: A customer calls and asks a tough question such as, “Why are your rates so high?” or “Why can’t I get my calls returned?” Sometimes “why” questions are not really questions, but are accusations that can lead to defensiveness. In reality, no one can put you on the defensive without your permission. What you must do is to take firm control of your emotions and start asking for specific information. When you request more information, you will be able to find out what is really causing the discomfort of the customer or client. This also helps to lower your anxiety level and reduce the tendency to overreact.

Suggested Response –“Mrs. Kakembo, could you give me a little more background about … (date and time of last call) or (product or service and charges)? If my research into this will take more than a couple of minutes, will you give me a number where you can be reached?” [Design your custom response.]

Emotional Escalation
When the customer has a service issue, the first emotion is usually disappointment when a product or service does not deliver as promised. At this point, the customer will usually contact the company or organization to get the problem resolved. However, if the problem is not resolved or the customer is placed on hold or transferred, the customer rises to the next level of frustration. If the customer is continuously transferred or gets unsatisfactory answers, the situation escalates to the next level, anger because they do not understand what is going on. This is when the customer questions whether or not they should have done business with you in the first place.

They begin to feel terrible about the relationship and decide to take their business elsewhere. Although the customer may have been disappointed with the product or service quality, the treatment that he or she receives is usually the “straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

Related Articles: Customer Service … transaction or relationship?  and  customer service … Be Careful What You Cut!

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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