Recession-proofing your customer service

Spoken | August 9, 2016

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by Heidi Miller, Social Media Manager

One of the things I’m often asked is whether this is a good time to invest in customer service. The fear of the R-word, “recession,” has waned; people are no longer afraid of uttering it, in the manner of He Who Shall Not Be Named. We’re all saying it out loud and wondering what to do.

We’re in a recession. The entire globe is facing an economic downtown. Let’s just get that out of the way first.

And yet, tips on improving customer service during a recession abound. Or perhaps I should say, “because of.”

Recently, I read an article by Mark Angel in the ever-helpful CRM Magazine: Boost Customer Satisfaction, Now, listing three good tips on focusing on customer service during a recession. He makes the excellent point that even (or especially) during a recession, customer service isn’t fat, a “nice to have,” it’s what will keep us going and differentiate us from our competition. “Now is not the time,” he insists, “to dial back on ensuring positive customer experiences.”

Amen to that. With studies showing that acquiring a new customer can cost up to five times as much as retaining an existing one, what makes the difference?

I’m going to go with “customer service.”

And AT&T recognized this, to a bit of an extreme, when they were fined $1.25 million for offering employees $1,000 in bonuses for retaining 50% of the customers they came in contact with.

So Angel’s first tip, “Dedicate unwavering attention to positive customer experiences,” makes a lot of sense; it’s a positive step companies can take, even during a recession, to retain current customers. But when I read the line, I mentally tacked on an addendum I’ll share with you:

Dedicate unwavering attention to negative customer experiences

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Negative customer experiences can and should fuel change in your customer service best practices. Here’s why:

  1. Negative experiences will be shared in person; you might lose another customer.
  2. Negative experiences might be shared online–on Facebook, Twitter or in a blog. You might lose hundreds of customers and garner bad press to boot.
  3. Negative experiences inform you of the flaws in your system.
  4. Negative experiences provide the opportunity to address an issue and forward a personal relationship with the complaining customer.

Great customer service isn’t about never making mistakes; it’s about being open to listening to your customers and using the points of failure to engage the customer, improve the system and build a lasting trust relationship with the customer. And companies who choose to engage with their customers, both happy and unhappy, get better customer satisfaction ratings, better buzz, and very often end up with better products.

Tips on dealing with negative customer experiences:

  1. Address every situation, positive and negative, with  “How can I help you?” (Yup, stole this from Frank Eliason at Comcast)
  2. Listen first. Don’t interrupt or defend.
  3. If you made a mistake, apologize. Two words, “I’m sorry.” None of this “we regret any inconvenience” crap. Just man up and apologize; it’s what every angry customer wants to hear.
  4. Once you understand the issue, propose a solution.
  5. Ask the customer what he/she think. Then listen.
  6. Follow up a week later to see how the solution worked out.

Go talk to an angry customer. You just might end up with a lifelong customer, a business partner, or a money-saving idea for improving your business.

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