How To Keep Your Customers By Dealing With Conflict

During my years as a sales and marketing executive, I learned the importance of dealing with really angry customers. Several situations where customers’ problems had been avoided and/or mishandled — causing conflict, anger and alienation — were handed to me to resolve.

I confess that the customers’ hostility and initial refusal to deal with me was daunting. Long before they would allow me to resolve their problems, I had to summon the courage to hear, understand and acknowledge their problems and perspectives. Over time, I was almost always able to earn our customers’ gratitude, good will and loyalty by resolving the issues and repairing the relationships. The result for the company?  Priceless!

Shankman Honig, a New York-based customer-service consultancy, notes a startling discrepancy in a recent Infographic. Appearing in Entrepreneur Magazine and titled “Stop Losing Money and Focus on Customer Service,” the document lists the following statistics:

  • 80% of businesses believe they deliver superior customer service while only 8% of customers believe they have experienced superior service from those same businesses.
  • 20% of consumers left a regular service provider due to poor customer service.
  • 24% of those who lost their tempers used social media to talk about their experiences with that company.
  • On average, consumers tell 15 people about good experiences, but they tell 25 about their bad experiences.

Your business will not thrive if it continually needs to replace 20% of your customers and suffer public disparagement from dissatisfied customers. Shankman Honig found that, It costs 5 times as much to acquire new customers as it does to keep those you already have. The agency estimates a collective annual loss of $83 billion to U.S. businesses due to poor customer service.

For better or worse, customer service employees are the face of your company and, to a significant extent, the company’s reputation depends on their professionalism and expertise. There are measurable costs for failing to serve and delight each customer. Shankman Honig states that 55% of customers backed out of a transaction based on a poor experience and 35% lost their temper with a customer service representative. Impolite or unfriendly behavior accounts for 77% of customer dissatisfaction!

The need to invest in every employee who comes in contact with a customer cannot be over-emphasized. Best to avoid mistakes and conflict rather than have to repair a problem or a relationship. Shankman Honig cautions that, when an employee has authority to fix a problem immediately, 67% of the time a defection can be avoided. A whopping 85% of consumers who have quit a business say they would have remained customers if the business had acted differently to prevent them from switching.

Successful customer service representatives are optimistic, knowledgeable about their products and services, and live by the Golden Rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. Critical skills such as these can be learned:

  • Communication: listening, empathy
  • Conflict management
  • Negotiation
  • Ability to identify and solve the real issue

Accurate understanding of what your customers want, as well as what they will not accept, sets the stage for good relationships. Consistent delivery of a quality product or service quickly and easily is key. When a problem occurs, the ability to recover depends in large measure on fixing the right problem competently and quickly, then repairing the relationship with the customer by showing respect and empathy. A customer’s loyalty can be earned by consistent accountability and fairness, even when mistakes occur and problems arise.

Shankman Honig’s data tells the good news that, 66% of consumers are willing to spend more with a company they believe provides excellent customer service. Your customers want what you have to offer and to feel that their business matters to you.

Every business owner understands that without customers they have no business. The need, however, to deliver excellent customer service consistently is not a theoretical concept! It is not magic! It requires two things. The first is a customer-focused culture. The second is a commitment to training and empowering employees to resolve customers’ problems on the spot, as often as possible, and then to repair the relationship with each customer.

The benefits of increased revenue along with retention and loyalty rates — for customers and employees — will accrue.