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Venting brings out customer expectations

Published:Sunday | August 3, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Maurice Henry, Contributor

The sky will never think in terms of holding back its storm. Think about it, where would the world be without thunderstorms, floods and hurricanes? It is how the earth changes, balances, and renews itself, but we believe its negative energy.

Service providers should take their cue from Mother Earth and never interpret customers who vent their frustration to the company's staff as negative. To the contrary, venting brings out customer expectations that the company may have taken for granted. See it as a positive balancing act that brings to light company policies and guidelines that may be skewed in the direction of the company's interest and at the expense of customers. Remember, self-interest is generally the cause of false interpretation.

When I postulate that com-panies should increase their complaint rates, it would be ludicrous if one imagine what I have in mind is that the company must have different customers complaining about the same topic. To the contrary, we expect the company to fix valid problems as quickly as customers bring them to the company's attention. This must be interpreted as simple physics at play: you're in alignment or you're not in alignment. Customer complaints are the guiding mechanism to allow the company to feel when it is out of tune, out of alignment and that vibration feeling is its guide post, marker, alignment tool that allows the company to know when it has strayed outside the boundaries.

It is even more critical to stay in alignment and within boundaries, given research that reveals that social media is the prime venting ground for customer frustration, coupled with other research that reveals only four per cent of customers who have something to complain about actually complain to the service provider. The rest just take their business elsewhere. Therefore, a company would be hard-pressed not to understand the logic in increasing its complaint rates to cut into the silent majority of 96 per cent who may seem to be silent when dealing with us, but extremely vocal when they go on to a social media network. Service providers must therefore see a customer that complains to the company as a very special gift, an opportunity to right the wrong. The following is a seven-step process for both managing irate customers and managing complaints.

I: Listen. Allow the customer to vent. Give him or her 30 to 90 seconds of uninterrupted talk time. Listening is an extremely hard thing to do, but it is the highest form of courtesy. Listen by genuinely paying attention with your ears, eyes, mind and heart.

2: Empathise. Respond with empathy, not pity or sympathy. Empathy and compassion are empowering; sympathy and pity are disempowering. The idea of empathy is not to cajole them out of what they are feeling, but to be truly with them in what they are feeling.

3: Apologise. This must be genuine. An apology is not an admission of guilt. It is an expression of regret that the customer's experience has been less than pleasant.

4: Offer a solution. Explain exactly what you will do to resolve the issue for the customer.

5: Act on the problem. Do what you promised in the previous step. Contact the appropriate team member to correct the problem, if necessary. Please note that if you over-promise and underdeliver the customer will not be amused.

6: Follow through. Monitor the progress of the co-worker working to solve the problem to ensure it is done in a timely manner.

7: Check back. After the problem has been resolved, contact the customer and ask whether he is satisfied with the resolution. This tells the customer you care.

It is a fact that successful service recovery is pivotal to customer retention. Research demonstrates that 90-95 per cent of complaining customers will continue to do business with a company once complaints have been resolved to their satisfaction. It therefore makes sense to train every customer-facing team member in the seven-step approach, especially if it is your aim to excel at customer retention.

Maurice Henry is the director of operations at Customer Service Academy of Jamaica Ltd., a Kingston-based management consultancy. Email