By September 13, 2013 0 Comments Read More →

Even When the Customer Isn’t Right, You Should Act Like They Are

Even When the Customer Isn’t Right, You Should Act Like They Are

In the world of instant sharing through blogs, Twitter, Facebook and review sites, you need to make sure that customer service and satisfaction is a priority and every single customer has a positive experience with your business – so they don’t have a reason to tweet their unhappiness to the world.

The way you deal with customers and provide service has to change. We know that retaining existing customer is always cheaper than getting new ones, but the stakes are so much higher these days. It’s not just about retaining that customer; it’s about making sure that customer doesn’t prevent you from getting others.

The old adage “the customer is always right” is actually getting harder and harder to work with, since competition has accelerated and margins have tightened in most industries while customer expectations have also increased.

Yet, to tell the customer that they are wrong and deny them the remedy they think they deserve may hurt you much more than them going home and telling their neighbors about how horrible you and your company is to deal with. Their voice carries much further than ever before.

So instead of dealing with the issues they raise head on, you should start dealing with the perceptions they have. It’s similar to negotiating on interests, not position. If you can address their perception, even if you don’t give them everything they expect, they’ll feel like their issue has been addressed and will stay a satisfied customer.

For instance, you might have provided excellent service and given them exactly what they paid for, but they might perceive something different based on an expectation they had before they even started dealing with your organization.

At the same time, you can’t tell them that their perception of the issue is wrong either. This will make them harden their position and feel you are attacking them.

The best way to deal with the perception is to try and change it, not to deny it. Denying their perception and trying to tell them what the reality is can cause significant disagreement and arguments, since to them their perception is reality. This will make it harder for you to deal with the actual issue.

Instead, you need to shift their perception gradually. Start by agreeing with their perception. “I can see how that would seem wrong to you” even if you don’t, or “You are right, that does look like a flaw” even if it isn’t, or “I’m sorry if you took what I said that way, I can understand why you would,” even if you don’t.

It’s this acceptance, agreement or even apology to their perception that will diffuse the issue. Even if you don’t agree with their perception, there are always ways to acknowledge their perception, so take that route to a solution first, even if you think they are wrong.

Then, you can walk through the situation without implying the customer is wrong and give them facts which you carefully positioned to change their perception.

In a real-life example, a manager made a comment to a customer and the customer became upset and escalated the issue. When I looked at the issue, it became clear that the customer interpreted what was said to be very different from what was meant. At first, the manager wanted to argue with the customer and tell them they were wrong and that he never said what they claim he said. That certainly wouldn’t have satisfied the customer. So instead, I asked my manager, who did it reluctantly, to write a letter in which he apologized if what he said upset the customer. No denial, no argument, just an apology. He then then went on to clarify what he really meant. This apology satisfied the customer, who became receptive to the explanation from my manager as a result and the issue was resolved.

The best solution to a customer service issue isn’t to argue with their perception. You need to resolve it as if it is a real issue, which will usually mean changing their perception gently and without antagonizing them. Starting with an apology if relevant and acknowledging their concern is always the best first step, and then you can get past their perception and solve the real issue.

Of course, taking this approach means you and your staff must be willing to say “I’m sorry” to a customer even if you don’t think you should be sorry, or to say “you’re right” even if you know the customer isn’t right. Remember, it's about their perception, not the reality that you need to deal with first - then you can get to the real issue and change their perception. This isn’t always easy for people – it wasn’t for my manger in the example above – but time and time again, I’ve seen it work better in the long run to solve customer satisfaction issues than going on the defensive.

About Michel Theriault

Michel is the founder of Success Fuel for Managers. He is an author, speaker and consultant focusing on topics relevant to Managers and aspiring Managers in businesses of all sizes who want to get results, get attention, and get ahead. He is also a contributor to Forbes and AllBusiness Experts . Michel is available for speaking engagements, training and consulting. Connect with him or send an email.

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