Question: Customer service is very important to my small business. I hear from others that “the customer is always right.” Should I follow that advice?
Answer: The customer is not always right. Period. But, and it is a big “but,” you have to address the customer service issue with finesse and smarts since we are dealing with human beings in business relationships. Everyday situations can get out of hand quickly if you don’t take the high road and address them head-on. How you address customer service issues affects how customers and potential buyers perceive your brand.
Depending on the type of business, you can more easily address an issue than others. If you have a restaurant and the wrong meal is served, you can easily remake it and serve the correct one. If you are a hardscaper and use the wrong bricks for a patio, the cost and time to correct the error are much harder. If you are a barber and the customer tells you how they want their hair styled and it doesn’t come out as instructed, the correction takes two weeks, i.e., time to let their hair grow out. At times the customer doesn’t always know what they want to ask for it, and it becomes your responsibility to figure out what they want and deliver it.
The best way to address this issue is to learn to say “no.” You can say no by saying yes, but you won’t get into a deep customer service hole. If a customer feels they did not get what they expected and wanted a discount or added service to make up for their perceived disappointment, it is ok to say no. But in saying no, you say yes by providing a solution, you might save the client. However, there are times when it is appropriate to “fire” the client because over the long run they will be less value than if you save them. Saying “yes” means validating the customer’s feelings. If you can relate to them in a manner that allows them to know that you understand how they feel, you are starting your solutions process with a “yes,” not a “no.” “I fully understand how you must feel. Let’s talk about some ways to correct this situation.”
It is also a good policy to leave customer service issues in your hands vs. the hands of your employees. Good customer service is everyone’s job, but addressing the issue is the owner’s job. If issues are not addressed appropriately, it might cost you the customer. You can avoid many customer service issues by training and educating your staff how to work with the customers. If they perceive that you have their interests first, then they will give you the benefit of the doubt when it comes to disappointment.
Time is a healer and time propagates the severity of an issue. If a customer calls with a customer service issue, the time to address it is NOW, not next week or when I am in your neighborhood. Many times in service businesses where time is your number one competitor, you put off addressing what is a simple issue that becomes a relationship ending catastrophe. You have a commitment to do ten lawns today and if you take an hour out to address an issue, you either won’t get finished with today’s lawns or work way after dark. If you have promised a customer to finish her painting job and you take two hours off to drive to a customer’s home to address an issue, you won’t finish the current job as promised. Time is your competitor, but there is nothing more pressing on a customer’s mind if they have an issue that only you can address. If want has caused a customer service problem, the best policy is to send someone to address it personally NOW.
How do you address customer service perceptions?
Be clear about the expectations and firm on your boundaries. Don’t let customers take advantage of you, because they will.
Be respectful and courteous, but firm in what you will do and what you won’t do. If the issue is severe, ask yourself, “Are they worth keeping as a customer?” Some customers are habitually unsatisfied, and they will cost your far more in the long run than having them remain a customer.
Recognize that there are emotions connected to dissatisfaction. If they wait 30 minutes for their meal and it comes out wrong, they are emotionally distraught aside from disappointed in having to wait for the meal to be corrected or recooked.
When you have decided on a solution, make sure you keep to the facts by peeling away any emotion.