How to Turn Bad Customer Service Into a Win-Win, By: Angela Stringfellow, Business Writer

Despite your best attempts at providing stellar customer service, mistakes happen from time to time. Sometimes circumstances beyond your control result in unhappy customers. If you don’t turn these bad experiences into something positive, your customers will head out the door and straight for your competitors. But what if there was a way to turn these mishaps into an overwhelmingly positive experience, possibly even earning your company some word-of-mouth props and new customers?

Opportunity in Disguise

Too often, unhappy customers are labeled as troublemakers, leaving little incentive to try to turn the experience around. But a simple shift in thinking will help you view every situation as a hidden opportunity. Ask yourself a few key questions:

  • What is the source of the customer’s frustration?
  • Is the problem fixable?
  • What is a win-win solution?

Go the Extra Mile

A while back, I was having continuous problems with my Internet service provider. The connection went in and out throughout the day, and each time there was a blip in service, I had to reboot my entire system. After multiple calls to the company and numerous visits from various technicians over the course of several months, I was left with no resolution.

Ready to take my business elsewhere, I made one last-ditch call to the company with a less-than-polite demeanor. Plans were made to send another technician that afternoon. Needless to say, my expectations at this point were nil.

After a thorough assessment and rework of my wiring and components, the technician provided me with his personal cell phone number and asked for a follow-up call in a few days to reassure him the problem had been remedied. Already, I was impressed. But to my surprise, I arrived home later that day to a voice message—from the same technician—apologizing again for the repeated problems and offering two free months of premium cable channels for the inconvenience.

Was it necessary? No. But it secured my brand loyalty. Why would I take my business elsewhere when I knew I’d be well taken care of should future problems arise?

Make it a Win-Win

When you think of customer service, you might think it involves always sacrificing to give the customer exactly what he wants, regardless of the impact on your business. While in some cases this is true, you can often develop an ideal solution that’s a win for both parties.

That was the case for QCI Direct, a catalog company which publishes Home Trends Catalog and Picket Fence Catalog. In a recent free sample offer, postage fees went up the day samples were shipped out, unbeknownst to the company. According to PR rep Kyra Mancine, customers were less than thrilled to find out they had to pay postage due when their “free” samples arrived. A heartfelt apology and a discount on a future order turned the situation around, and the company ended up losing just a few e-mail subscribers out of the hundreds affected by the situation.

The discount solution ended up being a win for both parties, resulting in some extra orders for QCI Direct from customers who may not have ordered otherwise. Customers were happy, even if they didn’t use the discount, because their frustrations were acknowledged and the company made an attempt to make it right. Often, customers just want to feel like they’ve been heard and that their business is valued, no matter how small.

Capitalize on Competitors’ Mistakes

You can turn poor customer service into an opportunity even when the mistake isn’t yours, according to Steph Calvert of Hearts and Laserbeams, a Web and graphics design firm. Calvert says customers often come to her with projects already started by other companies, or friends or relatives that either haven’t been finished or don’t meet expectations.

In order to get started on the right foot, Calvert offers a discount on her regular pricing to help offset some of the costs the client has already incurred with another vendor. “Following that up with great work and customer service throughout the project gives me one more loyal client that will refer me to others,” Calvert says.

5 Ways to Deliver Top-Notch Service

Amber Schaub, founder and CEO of RuffleButts, an online retailer specializing in clothing for toddlers, offers a few tips on providing excellent customer service based on her five years’ experience as a small-business owner:

Always respond promptly. Even if you don’t have an immediate solution, customers like to know their complaint has been heard. Offer a tentative time frame if possible, or let them know you’re working on a solution.

Carefully choose employees. Employees who will be working in the customer service department or handling any customer interactions. “They are ultimately your voice,” says Schaub.

Make it personal. Include a handwritten note or a personal follow-up call.

Follow the golden rule. Treat your customers as you would like to be treated in a similar situation.

Use the Wow factor. Wow them. They will never forget it.

Dealing with customers on a daily basis will inevitably result in a mistake from time to time. Follow some basic rules and look at each circumstance as a chance to make a lasting impression, and you’ll turn your unhappy customers into brand evangelists.

Angela Stringfellow is a PR and MarComm Consultant and Social Media Strategist offering full-circle marketing solutions to businesses.

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