Every business has them. The guy who puts 10 leather jackets on hold and then does not buy any of them. Or the woman who phones every morning, insisting that the shop owes her money from her last purchase, even though there is no record of a credit. Then there are the numerous customers who get angry, become loud and obnoxious and totally disrupt your operations. There are techniques you can learn to reduce the chances of such unpleasant scenarios ever developing.
People sometimes send up “smoke signals” before a scene develops. If anything about what your customer is saying makes you uncomfortable, look out. Complaints about your background music, your procedures, your location, your personal appearance or your hours are smoke signals.
Be wary of a resentful tone or impatient body language. Swearing or bitter tirades are smoke signals. Refusal to believe what you are saying about product quality, limitations or price can signal troubled waters too. Proceed with caution because when a customer creates problems in the very beginning, things are unlikely to improve as time goes on.
Your right to refuse service
As inhospitable as it sounds, you should know that you have the right to refuse service to anyone. You do have a choice in most cases, about entering into a business transaction with someone. A prospect may display so many smoke signals that you know the business he/she brings in will not be worth the problems.
The person may insist on unreasonable services or make outrageous demands on your time. In the unusual event that a customer is abusive, threatening or creating a disturbance, you have the right to insist that he/she leave your premises. You may have to repeat yourself, do so quietly, but firmly. Once you have asked a person to leave, he/she is trespassing by not complying.
You may have to point out that you can call the police or security guard to have the customer escorted off your premises. Let your employees know that if anyone gives them a hard time, to report it to you immediately. Let them know you are looking after them.
Keep your sense of humour
Customers are human beings too. The vast majority of them simply want to be treated decently, to get what they pay for and to avoid problems.
When you are feeling overworked and burned out by long hours, incessant demands and ringing telephones, it is easy to turn to your customer and not really see him/her as a person.
At this moment, it is crucial to activate your sense of humour. When you see a customer pull a jumper off the shelf and then watch as the entire pile comes tumbling down around his feet, do not think about what a clumsy idiot he/she is.
Instead, laugh at his embarrassment (in a friendly way, that is!) and help him/her pick them up. You may even use the opportunity to suggest buying a jumper in more then one colour and increase your sales. In any case, you will have a grateful customer instead of a humiliated one.
Try to see the humorous side in everything that happens. Remember, these aggravating incidents make great stories to tell later on. Look for employees who have a good sense of humour too and encourage them to make the customers laugh.
If you simply cannot find anything amusing about a situation at least count to 10 before you react. Anger and harsh words rarely help the situation.
If you and your employees create a fun, light-hearted atmosphere, your customers will enjoy coming to your shop, will stay longer and will keep coming back.
Preventing customer complaints
There will undoubtedly come a time though, when you will receive a complaint. Obviously, it is better to put measures in place to help prevent a complaint by becoming proactive rather than reacting after a complaint has been lodged
To be proactive, there are six objectives you should establish:
Sales must take an active role in meeting customer service objectives.
Product performance must be maintained throughout the product’s lifetime.
Incentives should be developed to ensure the customer is always treated as “number one”.
Customer service has to be established to maintain the company’s image.
The customer base has to be kept at a specific level.
The company has to make a profit.
There is no reason why every department within your organisation cannot work as a team. It should be natural for the sales department to work with the service department to establish better customer relations during the marketing phase.
Sales staff should understand that the service contract is a useful sales tool and that the customer service department has to deal with the customer after the sale.
If your salespeople have done a good job before closing the sale, the customer should understand basic warranty and service agreements as well as major functions of the product or the results of a service.
Create service objectives
To ensure product performance, service objectives should be incorporated from the initial conception of the product to final production. This ensures that the product performs to the specifications of the customer base.
It also ensures that once the product has been delivered, the service department can provide adequate support. If you produce a technically-oriented product, service technicians should install the product, train the customer and make sure all supporting documentation is delivered.
From the receptionist of the company to the managing director, everyone should be aware that the customer is “number one”. Any problem a customer may have with a product must be fixed immediately.
If you have met the first three objectives, the final three objectives should take care of themselves. However, you should not stop there. You should never be satisfied with what you have accomplished because business is very competitive and your competitors will follow suit, ultimately trying to outdo you.
You should continue to improve your customer service programme to maintain your company image, hold onto your customer base and grow.
One way to do this is to conduct a survey of your customers after the sale has been made and the product has been used. A survey can be mailed out, attached to supporting documentation or conducted over the phone.
The idea is to obtain feedback and assure the customer that you do care about them. The survey should ask questions about the sales staff, support during the sale, support after the sale, features of the product they like, problems they have had with the product and what could be done to improve the product.
Remember: in creating and meeting your customer service objectives, you are in turn meeting your own strategic objectives.
Handling customer complaints
Often, customers will have questions about your products or service or a genuine problem which has to be fixed.
All enquiries and complaints should be handled promptly and courteously. All service employees should be trained to handle any enquiry or complaint a customer has. The following are some tips for handling an enquiry or complaint:
Be attentive and courteous: Identify yourself/the company very clearly and pleasantly. Speak a little slower than normal and wait until the receiver is up to your mouth before you begin. As obvious as this advice may seem, you would not believe how many business people garble their telephone contact by speaking too soon or too quickly. You can lose that first golden opportunity of creating good customer relations this way.
Identify the nature of the enquiry or complaint: Actively listen to what the customer is asking. Too often, you tune out to what the speaker is saying because you are so anxious about opening your own mouth. Actually, the longer you let the customer speak, the longer you have to think about his or her request or complaint and work out the best course of action. Once it is your turn to talk, you will sound professional and concerned.
Respond to the enquiry or complaint: If you require some time to look into something about which a customer asks, tell the customer you will call back with an answer. Give him or her an estimated time at which you will call back and stick to it. If you are extremely busy, say so and promise to return the call in a day or two. As long as the customer has some kind of assurance that the request is being worked on, he/she should not have a problem waiting a short while for the result.
Always return phone calls: Set up a time during the day where you sit down to return customer phone calls. When your company gets big enough, hire a customer service department to handle them. Never ignore your messages. Chances are, the one you ignore will be the customer who was planning to spend hundreds of dollars in your shop, if only you had called him back.
Maintain a record of the enquiry or complaint: Get into the habit of writing down information as you are talking to the customer. Get their name and phone number, as well as a summary of the request. Too often, you will get caught up in other activities and completely forget to order that extra box of French wines your customer needs for a Christmas gift. If it is written down, you will have a constant, visual reminder, long after the telephone conversation is over.
Dealing with customer enquiries face to face is similar to methods used over the telephone, with a few important differences.
For one thing, body language comes into play – meeting the customer’s eye, smiling, standing in one place instead of stopping briefly in mid-flight – all of these physical gestures help to create a sense of rapport between you and your customer.
Customers with special requests should be handled at your discretion. There is a blurred line between accommodating the customer and sticking to your policies. On one hand, you want to please the customer so they feel good about the service they receive.
On the other hand, keep in mind that you must run your business according to your own standards. Nine times out of ten, you will regret it if you let your customers pressure you into abandoning your better judgment.