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What’s Your Signature Response to Problems?

serviceI’ve written often that one of the ways to create goodwill, positive buzz and happy customers is to exceed expectations. Responding proactively to problems offers, in my opinion, one of the easiest ways to exceed expectations available.

Problems happen, that’s a fact, and you can choose to respond to customer challenges, problems, let downs, screw-ups and mistakes in one of two ways. You can ignore them and create the kind of friction that drags your trust into the ground or you can respond in such an over the top, out of control, nobody does that kind of way that can turn problems into gold mines. If you want to exceed expectation, choose the latter!

Most everyone is familiar with the Nordstrom’s policy of refund – no time limit, no receipt, no questions asked. It’s an example given whenever someone talks about customer service, but it’s really a signature response to a customer problem and it’s become something that creates incredible word of mouth for them.

Creating what I call your signature response to problem solving takes a little thought, planning, implementation and even training, but it can become a very valuable tool for your organization.

Invite and reward feedback

The first step to making problem solving a core marketing system is to encourage customers to tell you when something’s not right. This may seem like a simple thing but there is plenty of research that suggests somewhere near 90% of your customers experiencing an issue will simply go away quietly unhappy.

You should clearly state in all your marketing copy that you welcome feedback and won’t rest until your customer is thrilled. Spell out guarantees, return policies and make it very obvious how to contact you via phone, mail, web, or email. You should also build satisfaction surveys, results reviews and even random phone follow-ups into your standard operating procedures.

Of course, it’s not enough to just ask for feedback and then send it down a black hole; you’ve got to respond.

Create a response

In order to get the full impact with this idea you need to design the manner in which you will automatically respond in order to solve a customer problem. Some of this can and should be handled through clearly spelled out, no strings attached, guarantees and return policies, but you need to add some flair as well.

Adding some creativity in this step is how you turn a response into a signature response. For example, does the CEO show-up with a bouquet of flowers, does the customer immediately receive a month of service free and a dedicated service rep to help guide them through the challenge, do you do whatever it takes to make it right?

The key here is to do something that gets the customer the result they are after but also offers a little wow that they can’t help notice, because it was unexpected.

Occasionally we receive notes from customers who have purchased one of our products, but feel it isn’t what they thought it would and want to return it. We cheerfully refund their purchase price, but instead of asking them to return it, we ask that they make it a gift to another business owner. It’s a pretty simple thing on our part, but it really creates a warm response each time we offer it.

Empower the team

Another really important piece of the problem solving puzzle is blame. When you make a mistake, admit it and move to fixing it. When your customer makes a mistake, well, move to fixing it. There’s no gain in getting the customer to admit they were wrong, even when they are. One of my favorite business expressions, said to my staff in my best dad voice is: Fix the problem, not the blame.

The way to make sure that your signature response to problems is actually delivered as designed is to empower your staff to fix the problem, not the blame!

Let them know that while you have a set of policies designed to make their life simple and your business profitable, they can do what it takes to make the customer happy. Now, if that makes you more than a little nervous that you will be taken advantage of then perhaps you need to refine whom you are attracting as customers. There will always be people who try to take advantage of your willingness to please, but the key lies in setting the proper expectations up front in all of your marketing messages.

Saving a deal gone bad by reacting in a way that is generally unexpected is how you create positive buzz and customers for life.

Image credit: pixeljones

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  • http://www.emergingtiro.com/ Ryan Freed

    Innovation is the key here. Be creative in your response methods always putting the customer first.

    Apple has created a great company through innovation becoming a leader in their industry. “Innovation is the difference between a leader and a follower.”
    - Steve Jobs
    Respond to this quote at Emerging Tiro.

    http://www.emergingtiro.com/?page_id=14&wpforum

  • http://seo4smallbiz.net/ SEO for small biz

    Panic. Always. For about 15 seconds, then scrambling for a quick fix. Then I usually settle down.

  • http://www.mariareyesmcdavis.com/ Maria Reyes-McDavis

    This is such a great post for everyone, beyond small business owners. How we respond to problems (and enable our team to respond) will determine the level of problems we are able to overcome. Great stuff!

  • http://www.hurlbutassociates.com/ Ted Hurlbut

    Empowerment is the most important thing here, in my mind. Empowering employees to fully engage customers with broad discretion to resolve issues creates a positive experience for customers and builds long-term loyalty. This is a challenging concept for the national chains to fully implement, but it's been a core value of successful independent retailers for decades.

  • http://vbpoutsourcing.com KJ Rodgers

    Some others on the SWOM site (Society of Word of Mouth) talk about elvating above customer expectations, but for many businesses, it is harder said than done, unless they have the creative effort and support.

  • http://www.zionandzion.com/ Phoenix Advertising Agency

    This post is awesome. WOM affects most businesses more than they realize.

  • http://www.biosolutionsarizona.com/ CrimeCleaner

    Great post. I own and operate a crime scene cleanup company and we have tried to change the way business is done in our industry. We have really tried to bring the “customer service” side of things to our field, not just simply cleaning and moving on. I'm sure we are all familiar with the phrase my dad hammered into my head for the last 25 years “Life is 10% percent about the problem and 90% how you react to it.” Every suggestion listed is right on!

  • http://www.oddpodz.com/ Sarah Guinot

    Thank you for this article!
    Mistakes and problems happen often and I am often shocked with how some companies handle them.
    I think the problem is that a lot of companies do not empower their salespersons and any other staff in contact with customers. If management makes sure all the staff understand the company's strategy with regard to customer service, gives everybody a sense of responsibilty and even gets salespersons excited to catter to customers' needs, then customer retention will increase.
    However, I wonder how to motivate salespersons during a recession, when wages and jobs are cut. How would you engage your staff to better serve customers?

    Sarah Guinot
    http://www.oddpodz.com

  • http://frontofficebox.com frontofficebox

    Couldn't agree with you more. Thirty years in sales and account management has taught me over and over again the critical feature of successful businesses is the way that handle customer dissatisfaction.

    Those who do it well win friends and references for life.

    Those who don't get commoditized and churned at the earliest opportunity.

    My two main bug bears recently have been the cellphone companies and credit card companies.

    Both spend fortunes trying to control churn.

  • http://frontofficebox.com stevensreeves

    Couldn't agree with you more. Thirty years in sales and account management has taught me over and over again the critical feature of successful businesses is the way that handle customer dissatisfaction.

    Those who do it well win friends and references for life.

    Those who don't get commoditized and churned at the earliest opportunity.

    My two main bug bears recently have been the cellphone companies and credit card companies.

    Both spend fortunes trying to control churn.