Turning Around Tough Problems For Your Customers – Part 1

How can I help a disgruntled customer?

When I started as Chief Operating Officer at an Algonquin-sister company almost seven years ago, upset customers scared me. By the time the customer called me, he or she had already exhausted any patience with my customer service team or production manager so now, not only would they bring me their original problem, which usually caught me off guard, but somehow the unsatisfactory treatment from my team compounded thing. Those calls always felt like discovering a car accident at the end of my driveway when I was already late for a vacation flight. The need for escalation stretched their trust in the rest of my staff and the delay caused by working multiple channels in order to get resolution usually meant that they’d been waiting a long time to feel “taken care of.”

Those calls also always left me wondering, how had this happened? Where did all the policies we put in place fail us and our customers? How could we have prevented this?

What does a disgruntled customer want when he or she calls?

In my experience, they’re looking for understanding, an advocate to partner with, a way to make their own customer whole, a way to save their investment and still make money, an opportunity to vent, and, sometimes, just guidance to solve the problem. By the time a problem lands on my desk, my firm has already failed the customer in some way. But, when times get tough, you have to prove your value as a partner. It’s the relationship that matters. Every problem needs to become an opportunity to improve and earn your customer’s continued trust. It’s an honor to serve your customers, even when your firm has failed them, and remember, they could have already moved on to another vendor. Take this to heart because if you don’t learn to address both your customer’s original problem and the way that your firm failed to resolve it, it will follow you to every job. Now is a good time to get better!

When I started my tenure as COO, two mentors shared advice with me. The first introduced me to an acronym “LEAP,” which stands for Listen, Empathize, Ask, and Produce. Listen means to be quiet, take notes, and let the customer tell you everything that’s on their mind. Don’t prejudge, don’t respond prematurely, and wait until the customer has finished. Then empathize, reflecting back how, given their evidence, you would feel similarly. Ask questions, to both clarify and check your facts. Then produce, telling the customer how you’ll handle the problem and follow through with them. Sounds simple, right? I found I could remember this list even when a customer jarred me. But, unfortunately, it didn’t solve all of my customer’s problems.

I found LEAP worked great at calming customers down and returning to a reasonable tone within the scope of a call. It helped my customers feel like “something” would be done after our phone call ended. But the vagueness of that “something” just set me up to fall short of expectations again. Produce was the tricky part. What if I discovered something after the call that changed my perception of the issue? What if my team or I to do exactly what I’d promised on the phone? What if it took me more time to understand the issue? LEAP leaves the resolution to one step and it fails to guide customer service. Should I deviate from our Terms and Conditions? Is this issue worth going “above and beyond?” What if there’s something I didn’t think of on the phone? How do I protect my customer and my job at the same time? What’s fair? Who’s right?

Exhale and relax. I’ll share more soon, in my next post on expanding the “P” in LEAP.

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