T&D: Customer Satisfaction – 1979

My First Published Article – 1979

SCENE: It’s been a long, hectic day. It’s almost closing time and you begin to straighten up the sales  counter area. The center had been swamped all day, you’re tired and feel a slight headache coming on.

As if by magic, at five minutes to closing the last group of customers rush in. Among them, one man  marches up toward the counter. You can sense this won’t be easy by the look in his eyes and the firm set of his jaw. You greet him, “Good afternoon sir; what may I help you with today?” with that he explodes and his anger and frustration spew forth in condemnation of you, your center and the world in general.

Obviously he’s upset, you say to yourself. You know there is a right way and a wrong way to handle such a customer. You could react personally to his attack and defend yourself, but you know he’s not really attacking you. And that would get you nowhere. So you listen to what he is saying.


Here I am in 1979 in the Video Studio with the late Gail Tornga

In between complaints about the salesman, one warehouseman, the waiting lines at the sales counter, cash register and out-back, the malfunctioning product or the out-of-stock situation, you know that a simple solution to his problem exists. One that will turn this angry, frustrated and dissatisfied customer into a happy, satisfied customer. It’s all in how you, the professional, approach the problem of how to handle customer complaints.

A dissatisfied customer means lost future business and lost future profits. But it does not represent simply the loss of one customer’s business. A bad reputation grows with a multiplier effect; dissatisfied customers spread the word to four times as many people as do satisfied customers.

Through their attitudes and actions, each center employee sells the Wickes product lines and service, not just before and during the sale, but afterwards as well. A successful sale is not completed at the sales counter, or at the cash register, or once the customer drives out the gate. The successful sale is concluded when that customer decides to come back to do more business with us. That’s the mark of a satisfied customer: his repeat business.

There are five basic steps to handle a customer complaint:

1. Listen. Do not interrupt the customer, give them a chance to vent frustrations and tell what the problem is.

2. Accept their feelings. Do not take their anger or criticism personally. Put yourself in their shoes, and accept their dissatisfaction as real.

3. Agree with them. Find some point on which you can agree with them and verbalize it. Let them know you understand and accept their feelings. Don’t make them think you are fighting them.

4. Clarify the complaint. If you have LISTENED, you should be able to reiterate the complaint to double check to make sure you do understand.

5. Take action. Resolve the problem ASAP! Make the exchange or the refund or take down all the vital information as cheerfully and as quickly as possible.

The last step is of course the most important: resolve the complaint and satisfy the customer as soon as possible. If the nature of the complaint is such that someone must leave the center for an on-site inspection, make the arrangements to do so while the customer is there. Make him feel that you are doing as much as possible to satisfy him. Be courteous.

If the problem stems from the customer’s own negligence, tactfully point this out, but still strive for his satisfaction. If the product is beyond repair, check with your manager first and see if you can offer to sell him a replacement at cost, plus shipping. We do not need to profit twice due to the customer’s misfortune. However, if the customer resists and demands replacement or a refund at no cost to himself, check with your manager. We should attempt to resolve the complaint at any cost. A refusal to payout $50.00 to satisfy a customer now later might cost us $1,000.00 in lost sales and a potential $250.00 to $500.00 in lost profits .

It is important that each person can handle and resolve every complaint, or else see to it that it is directed to and resolved by the proper person. And that does not mean telling a customer, “That’s not my department, lady. See the people out-back.” A more professional approach would be to hear them out, get them together with the proper person, explain their needs to your fellow employee, and make sure that their problem (which is now yours) is resolved to their satisfaction. Do not force them to to repeat their story “umpteen” times. It will only frustrate them further.

You may not have been the original salesperson, but once that customer chose you to give his complaint to, it became your job to sell them our “satisfaction guaranteed” service. And that means seeing their sale all the way through until their next trip in to do business with us.


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