It never fails to amaze me how many companies have
employees who are empowered to offer former customers
wonderful incentives to lure them back, yet their customer
service representatives have the ability to offer virtually
nothing to convince an unhappy customer to stay.
Powerless, these CSRs often actually ignore customers'
requests and declarations of their intent to leave, even
encouraging them to seek out another company!
They often repeat the few phrases they're allowed to say
over and over again, further infuriating the customers.
I recently interviewed the CEO of a mattress company who
told me that customer complaints never reach him because
his employees are empowered to, within reason, give the
customer what will keep him happy. His employees are
happier too because they believe the company trusts them
to make sound decision.
Sadly, that company is one-in-a-million today. If others
would follow his example, there would a lot less need for
those employees who call former customers because there
would be far fewer former customers to begin with.
When I worked in fast food as a teenager, giving an unhappy
customer a free apple turnover and having her leave happy
was common place. Today, fast food employees, like others
in customer service, are allowed to honor only coupons and
deals for which there are pre-programmed keys on their
It seems that companies today would rather lose loyal
customers for life than allow their foot soldiers in customer
service to toss them an apple pie.
Recently, we had just such as experience with our satellite
dish company. After more than four years as a loyal, paying
customer, we noticed a problem with our reception. We
asked to have someone come take a look at it, and we were
told it would be $100. That is the only option customer
service was empowered to offer. We announced that we
could get brand new satellite equipment for free from the
company's competitor, and we were told to go ahead and
switch, which we did.
After we switched, the first company called to ask why we
left, and we told our story. The employee agreed that "after
four years, we should have fixed it for free." Too late. We've
signed a new one-year agreement and we couldn't be
happier with our new, free digital video recorder.
On the flip side, we have no unresolved customer
complaints at our business because, very simply, we do our
best to keep our customers happy from the beginning. Sure,
we make mistakes and we run out of things, but we always
do what it takes to make things right, plus a little extra
something for the customer. That attitude builds long-time,
successful customer relationships. Here are some tips for
empowering your customer service department:
1.) Depending on the nature of the complaint, arm your
customer service employees with the ability to offer
incentives to unhappy customers to encourage them not to
leave. Allow them to offer at least half what the people who
call former customers can offer.
For example, if you normally charge for a service call, but
you're facing the prospect of losing a 10-year customer,
allow the customer service representative to offer half off.
2.) If your company screwed up, and your customer calls you
on it, allow your customer service people to admit that a
mistake was made, apologize and offer something to make
up for it ? a free month of service, a coupon for a discount on
a future order.
Nothing is more aggravating than having someone
apologize without admitting any wrong doing (i.e. "I'm sorry
you feel that way." Or "I'm sorry you're upset about that.") Let
them say, "I'm sorry, we were wrong. What can we do to
make it up to you?" What ever happened to the motto "The
customer is always right"?
3.) Toss the scripts. Giving customer service people lists of
things to say to unhappy customers turns your people into
nothing more than robots. With today's voice recognition
technology, you may as well use an automated response
Train your customer service people how to act like human
beings. Provide them with the kind of conflict-resolution
training they need to turn unhappy customers into people
who at least believe your company cares about their
problem and wants to help them.
4.) Offer incentives to customer service people who retain
For example, tape your calls, and once a month give an
award to the customer service representative who does the
best job turning angry customers into happy ones.
5.) Don't' wait for the customer to insist on speaking to a
manager. If the customer service representative's authority
to offer a solution is not enough to retain the customer, it
should be SOP for the representative to request time to
consult a supervisor and possibly bring them into the
Anne Brady is a freelance editor and writer with more than
20 years writing experience who, while working for Dow
Jones Newswires, was frequently published by the Wall
Street Journal. She and her husband own Brady's
Homebrew (http://www.bradyshomebrew.com), which sells
home beer brewing and wine making equipment and