When You Focus On Making Customers Happy, Everything Else Falls Into Place

Every business, small or large, should understand what skills its customer-facing employees need, and know how to speak to customers in order to foster a positive and long-standing relationship. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes: Do things for them the way you would want to have them done for you.

All businesses have customers and are involved in a customer-facing experience every single day. Whether you are a salesperson, project manager, president, vice president or customer service rep, every person in your business is dealing with customers in one way or another. All of these people have an impact on making a difference between a company that is perceived positively and a company that appears not to care.

It’s About Communication

If you are going to have a chance to win customer satisfaction you need to know what the customer thinks—your customer, not the “average” customer who populates national economic statistics.

One of the most customer-centric companies is Costco, which was the 15th largest company in the U.S. in 2016, according to the Fortune 500 ranking. Costco’s strategy is to provide members with a broad range of high-quality merchandise at prices consistently lower than traditional wholesalers, mass merchandisers, supermarkets and supercenters. It carries only merchandise for which it can provide members significant cost savings.

In 2015 Costco had approximately 64 million members and was ranked first in The American Customer Satisfaction Index in the specialty retail store industry with a score of 81. 

Given that about 75 percent of Costco’s operating profit comes from membership fees alone, every decision Costco makes comes down to what the member wants. And members are evidently happy: the warehouse chain has a membership renewal rate of nearly 90 percent.

The American Management Association found in a survey that high-growth companies stay in touch with their markets and willingly spend the money to do so. They know their customers and they keep their knowledge about them fresh. They find ways to learn things about their customers that cannot be learned any other way.

  • They learn whether they’re satisfied.
  • They learn what they bought and what they didn’t buy and why.
  • They learn what they came expecting to buy and to pay.
  • They learn preferences and how they are changing over time.

The Keys To Customer Satisfaction

Your company can reach this level of customer-centric status too by following through on these tips:

  • Listen and solve customer problems fast. Dramatically shorten the time it takes to complete any task for customers and co-workers.
  • Give customers your opinion, not one read off a piece of paper. They don’t want to hear stupid policies that are in place, they want to hear from a person who is empowered to make decisions on their behalf.
  • Be proactive to find solutions. Customers look for people to solve a problem and do it within a reasonable amount of time.
  • Be reliable. Customers want to feel comfortable dealing with someone they know and can count on to handle a situation.
  • Take charge. Customers want professional expertise; someone who can give guidance and direction.
  • Ask customers for feedback and let them know it is important. It makes them feel important and that their opinions matter.
  • Be an advocate for the customer. Customers are looking for a consultant. They want you to listen to them and provide them with a solution.
  • Have a positive attitude. Customers do not want to hear about how bad your day has been. Focus on them and on helping them solve their problems.

Since day one, Costco has had an unwavering commitment to doing the right thing for its members, employees, suppliers and the community, and its merchandisers are meticulous about their choices of product and have set detailed standards on everything from the size of cashews to the thread count of bed sheets. It’s all toward their strategy of making sure customers come back.

John Tschohl is an international service strategist and speaker. He is founder and president of the Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Described by Time and Entrepreneur magazines as a customer service guru, he has written several books on customer service. He just released the 10th Edition of Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service. The Service Quality Institute (http://www.customer-service.com) has developed more than 26 customer service training programs that have been distributed and presented throughout the world. His monthly strategic newsletter is available online at no charge. He can also be reached on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

How To Switch Off An Irate Customer

Despite the obnoxious behavior, shouting, clenched fists, pointing fingers and red faces, most irate customers have a sad message. Most likely they are trying to tell you that they are feeling hurt, ignored, disrespected, unappreciated and unloved.

It's easy to get flustered or upset when you’re confronted with an angry customer; and, if you don’t know how to respond, you can easily make the situation worse. However, when you respond calmly and with empathy, you can stay in control and defuse the situation in a professional, courteous way.

  1. Listen. Responding to their needs calmly and emphatically can serve as the key to getting more cooperation from emotionally agitated people. In tough situations, the issue at hand isn’t usually the actual issue. How an issue is handled becomes the actual issue.
  2. Acknowledge their anger. Empathy is powerful. If a customer expresses anger and you fail to react to it, they feel like they aren’t getting through and that you’re not listening. Think about how you would feel in a similar situation. Acknowledge their anger as well as respond to it. You can react to anger with a statement like, “You’re annoyed and I would like you to know that getting to the bottom of this is just as important to me as it is to you.”
  3. Ask Questions. Do not assign any blame or argue with the customer. Once you have an understanding of the situation, try to avoid making excuses or defending your actions (or those of your team or organization). Defensiveness can make others feel even angrier than they are already. Instead, ask what you can do to resolve the situation and make things right. You need to show the customer that, as an employee and as the face of your organization, you are invested in solving the problem.
  4. Suggest Alternatives. Ask what the irate customer wants from you. You want to keep moving the situation along in a productive way. After the person expresses what he or she wants, decide what you’re able to do and say so. Think outside the box. You can stay within your organization’s guidelines and still come up with an alternative. Your customer will view it as a sign of respect and an indication that you are listening to their specific concerns.
  5. Apologize. Say “I’m sorry.” In all likelihood, the problem may not be your fault in any way, but apologizing without laying blame will better position you to act in a manner that your customer perceives to be in their best interest.
  6. Solve the problem. Take everything you have learned about the situation in preparation for this final step. Both you and your customer share a strong desire to find a solution. If you need help solving the problem, get it. Regardless of how a problem is solved, getting it done quickly is necessary. Then, provide the customer with your contact information if they have any questions or lingering problems.

Here are a few more tips to help you, as the problem solver:

Disengage and don’t take it personally. So, what is needed in the presence of a hot-headed person? A cool-headed person! When you feel your blood start to boil in response to an irate customer’s anger, take a deep breath and remember that you are the master of your emotions.

Before the encounter tell yourself:

  • “I can handle this. It may be rough, but I can do it.”
  • “If I feel myself getting upset, I’ll know what to do.”

During the encounter tell yourself:

  • “Be calm, relax, and breathe.”
  • “Stay calm, I am not taking this personally.”
  • “I must look and act calm.”

After the encounter tell yourself:

  • “I did a good job. I can do this. I’m getting better at this.”
  • “I felt a little perturbed, but I didn’t lose my cool.”

-- John Tschohl