|A 'Model' for
Customer Retention --
Customer Focus from the Frontlines
WOW! Customers -- A Great Start
How-to WOW! Customers Who Bring Concerns or Complaints to Your Service Team
Service teams, beginning with their leaders, must recognize that, overall, customer complaints and concerns represent the most vital feedback the team can receive. Only a very small percentage of customers who experience dissatisfaction will bother to let you know about it. These customers see the relationship as a win-win and want to be “partners” with your team !
The challenge is for team leaders to listen, satisfy, correct the present situation, thank the customer, assure future expectations, correct cause of problem for future, and follow through to monitor corrections on a continual basis! Quite a challenge, especially with all the other operational challenges presented daily. The only chance team leaders have to meet this challenge is help. Help in the form of team unity in focusing on customers’ needs and expectations. The underlying base to maintain this focus must be a recognition of and appreciation for the customer. This article offers a “ best practice”, with a forty year track record, for support of this recognition by sharing feedback and thanking customers daily at the points of service/product delivery.
The following steps constitute a great sample of the 'tool' to begin building the 'practice' of customer recognition, while providing follow-through on an issue that can reap big rewards - customer complaints. Use of this technique will help view customer concerns not as criticism but rather as offers to help your team to be better. To see complaints not as problems, but rather, opportunities to improve and build relationships.
A mutual benefit exists from the customer’s needs being met. This is especially true if your organization has identified, such as with a relationship marketing technique, that the customer directly contributes to its needs as well. Or if a team or organization has identified a market or targeted a group of consumers that it wishes to win over into loyal customers. This could be with existing products and services or with the rollout of a new ones.
Step 1: Do not change a thing you are doing now. Listen and handle the complaint with your current policies and procedures. This is a ‘follow thru’ approach to help you win the customer and make your job as team leader easier in preventing recurrence of the problem that prompted the concern. If you do not already, make an effort to politely make a record of the nature of the concern and a contact address for future problem analysis and customer relations. Plan a technique for doing this so as not to inconvenience, embarrass, or interrupt your attention to the customer’s concern.
Step 2: Create the following three types of correspondence. Put on your marketing cap and/or seek support from your organizational team for marketing or advertising. Most all of the correspondence with customers for the purposes of asking for feedback, receiving feedback, and thanking customers will be by mail. Even if not by mail, it should always be in writing. These letters will serve both for obtaining information and building relationships with customers. The relationship building is by far the most important. It is the path to long-term customer focus of which the feedback is a facilitator.
I strongly suggest just one letter of each of the three types to begin with. Very important to:
Keep it simple – , most often, one page each, easily readable
Be sincere – , first and foremost, thank/appreciate the customer.
Offer - , ask the customer to be a “partner”, by letting your team know "How are we doing?" Whether they chose to or not is not as important as the offer.
Culture - , in your correspondence, tie in the same look and feel the customer expects. Most, for their own personal reasons, will not take you up on the offer but they will remember the “high touch”!
a) builds customer relations (PR),
b) thanks the customer,
c) recognizes their importance as a partner, and
d) explains your desire as a team to meet their needs in the future and exceed their expectations. Make it a theme of the team’s drive to continuously improve and be better.
e) Extend an offer for them to partner with your team and let the team know “How are we doing?” They would have the form before using your service (proactive). Either send the form with this correspondence or upon their request – provide SASE. If decided (see third correspondence) it is appropriate consider offering the customer a thank you gift or discount for their help with feedback. This is a choice that varies widely between industries and companies. If you elect to do so, keep it simple!
2) Have a written form, to get feedback, of a dozen or so critical items that your team needs to do well to stay in business this next year. You likely already have such a thought out approach which your team has used for feedback in the past. Whether you do, or not, take a new look at options with your supervisor using the following considerations:
Ø Consider a variety of areas to get input and involve, as much as possible, all team members.
Ø Consider what got you here, what you are known for, and what the customers’ expectations are.
Ø Consider what actions, or lack of, influenced the concern (s) of customers and what needs the customer must have met.
Ø Consider what your team needs to do to be better than the competition and meet organizational needs.
Ø Consider a variety or mix of responses - from measurements, choices, opinions, and perceptions to give the feedback “high touch”.
Now you probably have too much, so pare it down and keep it simple for you are going to ask your customer to answer the question of “How are you doing?”. Don’t worry or wait till its perfect for it is changeable and much more important with what you do with the feedback. Request they return the feedback immediately for the maximum value to your team with the SASE. In some cases, other efficient methods of correspondence are appropriate such as faxes or e-mail.
3) Create a formal “Thank you note or letter” or other form of recognition such as a certificate. This is for those customers that provide useful and timely feedback. Include a future feedback form. Important point: This keeps the entire process proactive in the sense that customers are aware beforehand. Customers are able to give you specific feedback on critical operational aspects of your business that you know (and everyone on your team will learn) must be executed well in order to stay competitive.
Consider also the possibility of a gift or discount but always as a "thank you" and never as "payment". My advice is, never pay the customer cash as they then become by definition professionals rather than partners. Decide what method fits your culture and change it as you go to what feels appropriate as a “thank you”.
Step 3: To all customers expressing concerns or complaints, send the first correspondence recognizing their value and contribution. Invite them to let your team know “How are we doing?”
Send the second correspondence and SASE (feedback form) either with the offer to participate or wait for an acceptance and send the feedback form under separate cover - choose the option that fits you best.
Handle all correspondence by mail (possibly electronic) and not in person. This avoids any interference with service systems and allows the customer to consider their decision. Either way it is a win-win regarding perceptions. If they choose not to participate they will remember your invitation, be impressed at your concern, and be much more likely to return in the future. If they do participate they will have been given the opportunity to participate and consider themselves a partner of your team. Team members will all come to understand that the customer's perceptions are the team's reality.
The third correspondence is critical in building a practice. Your team must recognize, thank, and appreciate the customers effort and contribution to making you “better”. Leaders must communicate support within the culture of their team to build an atmosphere of “thanking”.
Step 4: Post or ‘bulletin’ the feedback in a manner that is consistent with your teams culture and is viewable by everyone on the team. Remember, for our purposes here, more important than the feedback itself is what you do with it. Why? The feedback will be a work in progress which you will always assess and improve but the sharing of it as well as the other characteristics must be consistent from the start. No need to announce it. Just by sharing it team members will become involved. Simply answer questions about the customers and help let members feel it and absorb it. It is fine to start slow and let it build. Don’t expect miracles at first, one feedback does not a practice make but rather steps in that direction.
REMINDER: DO NOT change a thing you are currently doing operationally. This is a follow through. Have fun with it, learn, keep it simple! Bottom-line, all you want to do is ask customers to let you (and your team) know "How are we doing?". Most importantly, share this with everyone and let them get involved. There is no need to 'push' it, just the opposite, simply let team members learn and develop an interest and peer review on their own. Just answer their questions and they will be 'pulled' to it!
You can find more on the complete “tool” for building a practice of customer recognition and focus at http://www.thankingcustomers.com/
Get e-Training, a e-Handbook or Workshop for building a practice of customer recognition/focus for your own team and organization.