A view of the industry through the
eyes of independent and chain retailers.
Is the Customer Always Right?
Manufacturers have to handle irate consumers,
by An Industry Manufacturer (November 23, 2009)
As a manufacturer, I was very interested in the Kizer/Bender
article in the current issue. (Editor's note: that column is below.)
While we do not sell directly to the public, we have found that
consumers contact us directly, usually via email, when they have
problems with one of our products. Although we do have policies
regarding how a retailer can obtain credit or replacement products
from us, I have found that most retailers won’t even bother with
satisfying the customer. They tell them to contact the manufacturer.
This is fine, for it does give us a chance to work directly with
a consumer to show how great our customer service is. On the other
hand, in an email complaint, I find that the five steps outlined in
a face-to-face situation seem to further exacerbate the consumer’s
wrath, because it takes so many emails to elicit the information we
need to solve the problem.
I am talking about step #2: asking questions. What a nightmare
using email. Although I provide our 800 number and encourage the
customer to call us and ask for a specific person once we receive an
email, it is so much easier for the consumer to be nasty in an
Another problem with email is that the customer does not present
the defective product to us, and they never seem to have a receipt,
although, "I’ve only had the product for a couple of
months" is ALWAYS the response. Another common response is
"I’ve had the product a couple of years BUT IT NEVER
WORKED." (We do have a manufacturing date on each of our
products.) I have had it happen many times that I’ll satisfy one
customer, only to be bombarded by everyone else in her painting
class hoping to get a new product for nothing. It’s amazing how
long consumers think a product should last.
I never want to have an unhappy consumer, but how far do we go?
Turning Lions into Lambs
How an angry customer can become a
by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (November 2,
Here's the scenario: You smile as you unlock the front door of
your store ready to greet the hordes of happy customers who will
visit you today. Then reality hits you smack in the face when a
cheesed off customer demands satisfaction.
Welcome to Retailing in the New Millennium. Everybody's in a bad
We are a product of the world that we live in. We're all
time-starved and stressed-out. Mom's working, Dad's working, the
kids are in day care, the bigger ones are in school. At the end of
the work day it's a mad rush to get Suzie to Girl Scouts and Timmy
to basketball. Never mind that you're tired, you still have to make
dinner and do laundry, not to mention help the kids with their
homework before you can finally relax. No wonder we're cranky.
The thing is, those cranky customers can be anyone – we've all
been not-so-nice customers at one time or another. Most are just
nice people who are having a really bad day – you just happen to
be the one they decide to take their frustrations out on. If you're
in the retail business then unhappy customers are a daily fact of
life. When faced with one you can choose to react or to respond. If
you merely react, the customer will most likely stay unhappy. But if
you choose to respond in a concerned and professional manner, you
can turn that lion of a customer into a loyal lamb.
Understand that an angry customer may be reacting to what he or
she imagines will happen when they present you with a problem. This
is part of the emotional baggage every customer brings with them to
your store. We've all faced snarling store associates who treat
customers like the enemy – if a customer has had a bad experience
in one of your competitor's stores, it's easy to see why they might
think they will have a similar experience in yours.
That being said, if the customer is a complete jerk, do yourself
a big favor and get him/her off of the sales floor and into an area
where you can speak privately. If you stay on the sales floor, where
other customers can watch, you'd better be prepared to deliver
service perfection, because how you respond will be the topic of the
day among customers and associates alike.
If the customer is abusive or is using foul language say,
"Sir/Madame: I am going to help you, but I cannot help you if
you continue to speak to me like that." If the customer calms
down, continue with the steps below to solve their problem. But if
the customer continues to berate you, it is perfectly okay to say,
"I really do want to help you but I need you to calm down. If
you do so I can help you now, otherwise we will have to do this
another time." You can also try politely turning the customer
over to another associate. Under "normal" circumstances
the following five steps should do the trick:
1. Allow the customer to get the problem off of his chest.
Let's say a customer brings you a problem you can fix in two
seconds flat. Resist the urge to save the day, instead let the
customer blow off steam.
When a customer is unhappy about something, he has a tendency to
rehearse what he's going to say over and over and over on the way to
your store. By the time he gets there, his anger is at its peak. If
you try to fix the problem without first letting the customer vent,
he is likely to wait for a break in the conversation and begin to
tell his story all over again. So …
Offer your hand and introduce yourself. Using the customer's name
tends to have a calming effect.
Listen carefully and attentively to the customer's entire story
and don't interrupt! Stay calm – you set the tone for the rest of
Apologize, even if you are not the cause of the problem. This
shows the customer you are on their side. If you say, "Gee,
this is a great product. We've never had this happen before."
The customer hears, "You moron. Didn't you read the
directions?" Instead say, "I am so sorry that you are
upset. Let me see what I can do to solve this problem." Or
"I am really sorry this happened to you. I can understand why
you are frustrated."
2. Ask lots of questions to help determine what you should do
When you ask questions people think you care about them, and they
will respond more positively. Ask the customer Open-Ended Questions
that cannot be answered by a simple "yes" or
"no." You might say, "When did you first notice this
Open-ended questions require the customer to talk – and that's
a good thing – because the talking helps the customer to slow down
Smile, make eye contact, and nod as the customer tells his story.
3. Ask the customer what they would like you to do for them.
We witnessed a heated exchange between a store manager and a
customer who was trying to return a defective shop vacuum. The
stone-faced manager was too busy defending his product to focus on
the customer. The manager wasn't giving an inch, and the customer
looked like she was ready to throw the vacuum through the window.
Finally, in a sarcastic tone of voice, the manager asked the
customer what she'd like him to do. She sighed, and replied that she
wanted to exchange the defective vacuum for one that worked. The
manager was taken aback. What did he expect she was going to ask
for? His first born child?
Most customers are not unreasonable; they just want you to fix
the problem. Ask, "What would you like me to do for you
today?" Then tell the customer exactly what you are going to do
on their behalf.
Take responsibility: If it's a problem you can fix on the spot,
fix it. If the problem will require further action on your part,
then explain which steps you will take, and tell the customer when
you will get back to them. And make sure that you follow through!
4. Go a step further and "Do one more thing" for the
That "one more thing" is an olive branch that you offer
in good faith. It doesn't matter what you offer, it's the gesture
A $5.00 gift certificate (80% of all gift certificates are
redeemed for more than the face value; 40% of all gift certificates
are redeemed for TWICE the face value, so you can't lose); a free
class or free crop; or even an inexpensive gift, such as a small
photo frame, will work wonders.
5. Follow up to make sure the customer is satisfied.
According to The Technical Assistance Research Programs Institute
(TARP), up to 70% of unhappy customers will do business with you
again, and up to 95% will return if you fix the problem quickly.
It's to your benefit to follow-up. A simple telephone call or
handwritten note will do the trick.
You may also want to keep a file on what happened, and what you
did to take care of the customer. Email us for a free copy of our Super
Quick Service Response to help you keep track.
Don't take it personally! Sometimes that's easier said than done,
but remember you are not the cause of the customer's frustration –
don't expect to win them all. Do your best not to let an angry
customer ruin your entire day or affect the next customer.
Make sure that everyone in your organization understands how to
work with an unhappy customer. Why not hold a staff meeting using
this article as the agenda? Ask your associates to think of a
situation they had with an unhappy customer. Ask what they did to
solve the problem. Then ask if anyone has a suggestion on what the
associate could have done differently. You might want to think up
some off-the-wall scenarios of your own, and see how your associates
solve them. Ask one associate to be the customer, and another to be
the associate. Role play is a great way to get the point across.
Customers don't expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you
to fix things when they go wrong. Solving their problems is proof
that your store is a trusted partner. It's that trust that will keep
them coming back for more.
Rich Kizer and Georganne Bender are professional speakers, retail
strategists, authors, and consultants whose client list reads like a
"Who's Who" in international business. Retailers depend
upon KIZER & BENDER for timely advice on consumers and the ever
changing retail market place.
Named "Two of Retailing's Most Influential People,"
KIZER & BENDER are experts on consumer and generational
diversity, marketing and promotion, and everything retail. They are
widely referred to as retail anthropologists because they stalk and
study that most elusive of mammals: today's consumer.
Any speaker can talk about customers, but Georganne and Rich
actually become them. In addition to focus groups, one-on-one
interviews, and intensive on-site studies, their research includes
posing as every kind of customer you can imagine – and maybe even
a few that you can't! The result of their research is literally
straight from the customers' mouth: solid, ground-level intelligence
that you can use today to better serve your own customers and build
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(Note: To read previous columns, click on the titles in
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