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Winning and Losing with Customer Complaints: Part 1

Learn how customer complaints and problems can affect your tire/auto service business, as well as effective behaviors your staff should execute when confronted with these situations.

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In this Part 1 of 2 of Managing Customer Complaints & Problems column, we’ll explore how customer complaints and problems can affect your tire/auto service business, as well as effective behaviors your staff should execute when confronted with these situations.

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As I wrote in my previous article on customer service fitness, the true test of a business’ customer service effort is not when things are going right – but rather what is done when things go wrong. Much the same way an individual really doesn’t know how good their insurance company’s customer service is until they file a claim, tire/auto service customers really don’t challenge your customer service quality until they confront your staff with a complaint or problem area.
Practice empathy in customer complaint interactions by agreeing with their feelings, then telling them you are there to help.
Never underestimate the wrath of a customer scorned – a disgruntled customer is much more likely to talk to others about that one bad experience they had with you than all the good experiences that came before it.

Complaints/Problems Cost You
According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, 96% of unsatisfied customers never complain about poor service, but more than 90% of those unsatisfied customers will never shop at the offending business again. Furthermore, each of those unsatisfied customers will tell their story of discontent to an average of nine people.

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So, not only do you face the high probability of losing a customer for life by not managing their complaints and problems effectively, but there also is a high risk that you will lose additional business through bad word-of-mouth.

Back in the pre-Internet era, unhappy customers of any service business typically would share their feelings of dissatisfaction with their immediate circle of friends and family. As the aforementioned statistic from the White House Office of Consumer Affairs indicated, these would normally be nine other people. This word-of-mouth circulation usually had a limited life span and would normally fade away over a period of days.

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Today, technology advances have made the spread of information easier than ever before and a disgruntled customer can simply access the Internet and immediately share their story of dissatisfaction with a number of people far greater than their immediate network. And, once those negative stories have been published, they are out there for all to see for infinity and beyond.

For this reason alone, it is crucial that tire/auto service personnel know how to effectively manage any and all customer complaints and problem situations.

Management Behaviors
Behavior 1: Be the “Good Cop” – In the recommended read “Buying Trances,” author Joe Vitale wrote about the principle of “Agreement Melts Resistance” and how when working with resistant sales prospects, agreeing with them is a more effective strategy than arguing with them.

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A similar principle of cooperation is the same police officers use when interrogating a criminal suspect using the “good cop/bad cop” technique. Opposed to the “bad cop,” who reads the accused the riot act and may even threaten bodily harm, the “good cop” comes across as a friend, willing to help, empathetic, not judgmental.

Ironically, even though many criminals are aware of this technique, police still use it regularly as it has been proven consistently effective in getting the accused to open up and admit their illegal behavior.

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All of which brings us to the golden customer relations rule when dealing with customer complaints: If you win the argument, you lose the sale!

Too often when confronted with a customer problem, store personnel quickly assume a defensive “bad cop” posture and argue against the customer’s position. This lack of cooperation and understanding rarely works to create a happy customer.

Behavior 2: Practice Empathy – Don’t confuse this type of cooperation behavior as an agreement with the customer’s contention. The customer may indeed be wrong in their accusation and I’m not suggesting you arbitrarily express agreement with their contention if that is the case.

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However, in all customer complaint situations, you do need to agree with their feelings. This is true empathy, the ability to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and recognize that if you felt wronged, for whatever reason, you would want the offending store personnel to be accepting and understanding of your situation.

To practice empathy in a customer complaint interaction, you first should remove all defensive barriers and acknowledge that the customer is important by telling him or her that you are there to help. Then, get out of the way and allow the customer to release some steam and ease their frustration by hearing them out. Sounds easy, but this is where many sales and service personnel get in the way and escalate the customer’s position to irritation by interrupting, attempting to justify and defending their position.

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The final phase in demonstrating empathy is to ask questions to completely understand the customer’s situation, then paraphrase the problem and repeat it back as you understand it. This process shows the customer that you are truly listening and actually care about their situation and displeasure.

You need only read the countless negative customer reviews out there to confirm that it all comes down to feelings. When a customer doesn’t feel the store personnel had empathy and understanding when handling a complaint, they feel angry, upset, not-valued and other non-happy emotions that they are more than willing to share with their network of family, friends, co-workers, people standing in the general vicinity, etc.

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The best companies recognize that even if the customer is wrong, it is far better to agree with their feelings and concede a little now than it is to risk losing a customer for life and likely have that person create an epidemic by spreading their ill-will with others.

We’ll address this issue more in the May edition of Tire Review.

Steve Ferrante, CEO of Sale Away LLC, is the producer and host of the Pinnacle Performance sales and customer service training program for the tire/auto service industry. He can be reached at 866-721-6086 ext. 701 or [email protected].

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