How to turn Leavers into Lovers...baby

When American Express decides it's time to stop treating customer complaints as a cost centre and start using the opportunity to get closer to their customers and build a stronger relationship with them, it's time to sit up and take notice!

Over the past 12 months, the Chief Marketing Officer of American Express came out and said in effect they had been ignoring one of the strongest and most important branding tools at their disposal...the telephone. This isn't an article about Amex, it is a guide to assist those sitting in organisations on how to turn a customer who is on the verge of leaving you and how to turn them around to becoming your most loyal advocate.

Taking a Service Design approach and getting closer to your existing customers so you can find out how to better serve them has to be one of the smartest investments for service providers. It sure beats spending millions on TV making more promises you are not structured to deliver upon(that is is another post altogether).

From Inc. Magazine, they have compiled eight expert tips for dealing with the toughest customers. Here's how it's done right.

Want some old advice? The customer is always right. Okay, now you can stick that in your pocket. Today's best service entrepreneurs are looking beyond old axioms in relating to customers. That's because today's best customer service isn't something that can be faked: it's personalized and it has a personality. Do you have the certainty you can harness all the feedback customers will give your company, act on it, and keep your best customers coming back for more? We've compiled highlights of new expert tips from articles in Inc. and guides on Inc.com to help you take a fresh look at making your customers happier and your business better.

1. Ditch the formalities and break the rules. The last thing unsatisfied customers want to hear is a recitation of your company's return policies, Tali Yahalom writes on Inc.com. "Today's customer expects to be treated as an individual, not as just another number who's complaining," Ann Thomas, a senior consultant at Performance Research Associates, a Minnesota consulting firm, says. Consider the case of a department store with a 90-day deadline for returning an item. If there's a customer who just got married, returned from her honeymoon and, at day 100, realized that a gravy plate adorned with doves is actually not her style, it's worth looking into alternative options rather than sending her home right away. Your company should know that occasionally bending the rules will ultimately cost less it than it would to lose the customer or, worse, if the customer leaves and relays a negative story about your company. Read more.

2. Don't give customers too much choice. What happens when you give customers too much say in how you make what they buy? "Quite simply, overly-demanding customers can undercut your ability to grow a valuable business," writes John Warrillow, serial entrepreneur, author, and Inc. contributor. He explains that when trying to scale up a subscription research offering similar to a Bloomberg or Forrester research program using a model by which a customer subscribes to a pre-set number of reports provided to all, things started to derail. His company was customizing each report for the 17 subscribers, meaning an annual 102 reports based on six studies, which was untenable for the company's 20 employees. Warrillow shut down the program. The lesson? "In hindsight, I realize a big part of the problem was my involvement in the selling. I'm just too tempted to make a sale at just about any cost. Next time, I'll know better than to let my sales instincts undermine my entire business model." Read more.

3. Monitor your reputation online. All the time. "Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp have become essential components of many companies' online marketing strategies, but there are countless other sites on which customers rant and rave about their experiences," writes Inc. reporter April Joyner. When customers rant online, it has the potential to tarnish a company's brand—and scare away prospective buyers.  There is a host of new tools to monitor what's been said about them online. "Eighty percent of companies do fine with Google Alerts," says Andy Beal, founder of Trackur, an online monitoring software company. "But once you have 30 different keywords to monitor, you'll outgrow it very quickly." Companies such as Trackur, Radian6, and Viralheat offer Web-based dashboards specifically designed to monitor multiple brands. Though the most expensive of these can cost more than $6,000 a year to use, many services offer less expensive packages for small businesses, Joyner reports. Read more

4. Shut up and listen. It sounds simple, and it sounds easy, but it's often not. When a customer starts ranting, just listen.  Tali Yahalom writes on Inc.com: "Often customers feel the needs to vent frustration with a product or service before even considering a proactive solution." And Thomas told her: "Acknowledge the customer's emotional state," Thomas says. And don't get defensive. Remember that a good empathy statement does not imply ownership of the problem. Another key communication tip involves asking open-ended questions that involve the customer, Thomas says. This technique will not only divert focus from emotional frustration but also generate copious information about the problem at hand and help you arrive at the appropriate solution. "Rather than getting defensive … I need to simply listen to the customer, accept the feedback, thank the person, and then decide what to do," she adds. As a bonus, the customer might feel appreciated and cared about, alleviating some of their emotional frustration. Read more.

5. Collect lots and lots of customer feedback. Several companies offer tools that let customers submit feedback and vote on suggestions. Although all of these services offer some basic features for free, they typically require business owners to pony up for paid versions in order to moderate customer comments and integrate the tools into their company websites. With Get Satisfaction, customers can report problems, ask questions, submit ideas, and offer compliments. The most popular package for small businesses, priced at $89 a month, includes design customization and an analytics dashboard. Other options, such as IdeaScale, UserVoice, and UserEcho, are priced from $15 to $589 a month. Read more.

For all 8 tips click here

Posted on December 31, 2010 and filed under Customer Experience, Service Design.