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Customer Complaints Part 2: Proactive Resolutions

February 23, 2011
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In Part 1 of this customer complaints feature, "If You Win the Argument You Lose the Sale!" I addressed the principles of cooperation and empathy as effective strategies when confronted with customer complaints.

To wrap up this topic, this article focuses on the importance and effectiveness of being proactive in your customer complaint interactions.

First and foremost, being “proactive” means being prepared. The best companies don’t simply react to customer complaints as they occur; they strategize and prepare for situations of customer dissatisfaction before they happen.

To understand the concept, recognize this is precisely the process renowned medical institutions employ to manage patient care. When a doctor’s patient (his/her customer) passes away this is understandably the worse outcome or, put in context, customer experience. When this happens, not only does the doctor who was in charge of the deceased patient go in front of the medical institution’s board, but all doctors in that department are requested to attend to provide their professional feedback and opinion. This process is called a “Post-Mortem Review”. The objective of this meeting is twofold; to determine what (if anything) went wrong, and 2) to arrive at a consensus for future treatment of like patient situations.

The Ritz Carlton employs a remarkably similar approach in managing their customer complaints. All guest problems/complaints are evaluated as to the best way to respond to ensure that the customer is exceptionally pleased with the outcome. The results are documented in a Quality Control Manual that contains the potential problem/complaint and what they consider to be the best way to deal with each specific situation.

According to The Ritz-Carlton, there are approximately 1,000 customer problems and appropriate resolutions currently in the manual. Each employee refers to this guide to resolve guest problems/complaints and ultimately provide a consistent customer experience across the corporations’ global locations.

Southwest Airlines utilizes a similar proactive method in managing their customer complaints. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Southwest Airlines has the lowest rate of complaints of any major U.S. carrier. They achieve this by employing an uncommon strategy; they respond to bad customer experiences before complaints!

There are three components to their process: The first is a sincere apology. If any employee deems that there has been an undesirable customer experience, immediately a sincere apology is made. Over and above simply doing this face-to-face, a written apology is generated and sent to the customer, normally by email and always within 24 hours of the problem/situation.

The second component is a brief explanation of their understanding of what happened; the circumstances that created the less-than-perfect customer experience. This acknowledgement is vital; by reiterating the situation back to the customer, the customer feels like the company is paying attention and truly cares about their well-being and satisfaction.

The final component of Southwest Airlines proactive customer complaint process is a gift. At the conclusion of the written apology a gift is offered to make it up, usually a voucher in dollars that the customer can redeem on their next Southwest flight.

The lesson for tire/auto service personnel is clear. Be prepared and know your proactive customer complaint strategy in advance. That way, when encountering customers’ bad experiences or complaints, you can be responsive, create consistency and provide resolutions that provide the best outcome for your customers and your business!