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Turning Difficult Customers into Opportunities for the Future

By Dan Mesenburg

The customer is always right. Sometimes confused, misinformed, stubborn, changeable and even downright rude… but never wrong. This is the challenge we face in our industry whether you are cleaning carpets or mitigating a water loss. Most businesses want to run away from these uncomfortable situations. Successful businesses embrace difficult customers and seize the opportunities.

Where is the opportunity? Why do I want to spend the time to add more stress to my employees and my business? And, furthermore, difficult customers always cost me money. While these thoughts are the norm, those who are most successful look at the opportunity that is presented. Today, more than ever, social media spreads the word quickly. We used to say a happy customer tells five people and an unhappy customer tells 20. But add social media to the mix and the happy numbers remain low but the unhappy tales could increase by up to 10 times!

The good news is that there is a simple process that you can teach all of your employees that will turn difficult customers into future opportunities. By following these four steps, you can show the customer that you value their business, want them as a long-term customer and create a positive impression of your business that will be retold to many:

  1. Listen.  Use active listening skills in person to find out what the real issue is.  As you listen, take notes, pay attention and make eye contact. When the customer is done speaking, repeat back his or her concerns and ask if you have included everything or if there is anything else you need to know about.  Writing while listening is key! This gives the customer confidence that you will address his or her concerns. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment; how many times have you been told “we’ll take care of it” and nothing happens?
  2. Empathize. To show empathy is especially helpful in a situation that may include a fair amount of emotion. Use statements like “I appreciate your frustration…,” “I can understand why you may feel this way…” or “I understand your doubt…,” to show the customer you care. However, do not place blame or accept blame at any time during the fact finding process.
  3. Accept the challenge. Depending on your role in the company, you may or may not have immediate answers. If you can’t provide a solution on-site, own the issues and tell the customer you will talk to your owner or supervisor and get back to them. Make sure you get back to them within a specified amount of time – usually 24 hours is best. More importantly, follow through with the customer on the timeline given, even when your superior doesn’t.
  4. Explain or offer choices. When you have a solution (again, this is best if done in 24 hours or less), present it to the customer. It is best to offer several solutions from which the customer can choose and all of them are yours which puts you in control. You may also explain a policy or procedure in more detail or in a different way to help the customer better understand. The key to this step is moving forward towards a mutually agreed upon solution and FOLLOWING THROUGH with the solution immediately.

It has been said that difficult customers are only looking for more information. I would estimate that over 80 percent of the complaints in our industry are related to poor communication. It is not usually what is said, but what is unsaid or assumed. By using these four steps, you can neutralize negative situations and create long-term customers that will come back to you every time they need the services you provide. This will have a positive effect on your customers and your employees. Best of all, you are building the impression in your community that you are a reputable organization that offers the highest standards of customer service!

Dan Mesenburg is a long-time industry veteran with more than 18 years of experience in the restoration and cleaning business. Dan is an IICRC-approved Instructor for WRT, ASD, FSRT and OCT, as well as Dan a franchise owner and business consultant/regional training manager for ServiceMaster Restore.

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