Published in The Tennessean January 12, 2015
By Ed Rappuhn – SCORE Nashville
“We have some tough customers. They complain about everything, much of which we can’t control. Some ask to return things after warranties have expired. We can’t afford to eat those losses. What should we do?”
Whenever possible, provide extraordinary customer service. Your reputation is on the line and is easily marred by even one or two negative customer interactions. As a small business, you have the freedom to operate outside “corporate policy.”
Listen to the constant complainers. Why are they dissatisfied? Identify one or two areas that commonly cause complaints and then improve in those areas.
For example, what you think is out of your control might actually be the result of unrealistic expectations. If so, undersell your capabilities and over perform. If I’m told something I order will arrive in 7-10 days and it arrives in 5 days, I’m thrilled. If I’m told 3-4 days and it arrives in 5 days, I’m irritated – same delivery time but different expectations. Set expectations to make your performance excel.
If you don’t have what the customer wants, don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. Send them to a competitor if necessary; they will appreciate your honesty and desire to satisfy their needs and will continue to come to you first.
For the customer that requests a replacement after the warranty expired, does the positive feedback or repeat business from the customer exceed the one-time loss? Talk to your vendors. If you are a good customer, they might provide occasional warranty term exceptions. Alternatively, see if your customer is willing to “split the difference” on an out-of-warranty replacement.
Train and empower your employees. Make sure they don’t oversell your capabilities and give them the authority to make reasonable decisions without requiring approval. Your customers see every employee as representing the business and don’t like to hear, “I need to check with the owner.”
In extreme cases, you can fire customers. Lower the risk of negative reviews or comments by offering them alternative sources to get what they want, giving them refunds or doing what’s needed to end the relationship in a positive manner. They might return later with a new attitude once they see the grass is not greener on the other side.
Do what you can to prevent customer complaints by providing products and services that exceed expectations. Consider being overly generous on a single transaction; it might mean positive public relations or repeat business. The cost of keeping a loyal customer is generally less than that of acquiring a new customer. Make sure your employees are well trained and can speak for the business. Use amazing customer service as a competitive advantage.
Ed Rappuhn is a mentor, workshop facilitator, and the past-chair of SCORE Nashville. SCORE mentors guide entrepreneurs in starting and growing their businesses. Sign up for a free SCORE mentor, find out about our reasonably priced workshops and other services, or volunteer to become a SCORE member at www.scorenashville.org .