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chris griffiths

If something doesn't go quite right with a customer transaction, use it as an opportunity to show what you are really made of.

It is often said that, for every customer who complains, there are many more equally disappointed who don't bother to communicate that to you. So each complaint should be considered even more important, because the problem is likely more widespread than a single occurrence.

It pays to take the time to be thorough with a customer during the resolution phase, and make sure you also take more time to review the situation with your team.

The first priority should be to implement corrective measures. Customers who are handled well when something goes wrong can wind up being even more loyal to your business than those for whom the transaction went smoothly the first time around.

Be humble and understanding – show that you truly understand a customer is disappointed and has been inconvenienced. As a consumer, I find the inconvenience the worst part. I can understand that not every product or service works exactly as planned every time. What frustrates me the most is the time and effort it takes to find the receipt, pack up the product, drive back to the store and repeat a shopping process that was supposed to go right the first time – all the while fearing that the problem will recur.

So why not start there? Say you are sorry for the trouble. Recognize that the customer has been inconvenienced and acknowledge he or she is probably questioning whether or not to bother with a replacement. Remove those fears in some way that makes sense to your situation.

For example, a retailer could reassure a customer by offering to send someone to deliver and install a replacement and pick up the faulty product should a problem happen again. In addition, offer a free add-on, gift card or discount in exchange for the trouble. Maybe call a few days later to make sure everything went as planned this time around.

If all this sounds like it is getting expensive, it should. This is the price you need to pay to comfort the customer and show that you are willing to go the extra mile. The better you handle the situation, the more loyal your customer will be. The customer will be much more likely to tell friends about how you bent over backwards when something went wrong than during normal, problem-free transactions.

Conversely, if you don't overcompensate, customers will likely just spread the word about your product's or service's unreliability and failure.

Once you've invested in correcting a customer's situation, it is time to meet with your team. You may have done a great job turning a bad situation into a customer save, but you can't afford to repeat that very often. Lessons learned need to be turned into a solution to the root cause of the problem.

Was the root cause human error, poor quality from a vendor, lack of training or did the sale not properly match the solution the customer ultimately needed? Get consensus on that and then agree on how to avoid similar issues in the future. Be sure to hold vendors accountable as well. In the case where you are reselling a faulty product, you are the customer. It's time for you to complain to your supplier and demand corrective action.

These approaches will need to be customized for your business and situation but the common thread is to treat it quickly and thoroughly for the customer and not be dismissive of the problem with your team.

Any arrogance or presumptions that lead you to think the customer is too picky or the situation is too rare to pay attention to will come back to haunt you. Use these humbling moments to build a stronger business.

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and exited seven businesses.

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