Every instance when a customer has to pick up the phone and contact customer service, is an instance of friction and dissatisfaction that lingers in customers’ minds long after the interaction is over and done with.
The first reaction to a situation like this would be to try not to mess up to begin with! However, problems have a way of cropping up in spite of your best efforts.
Causes of a Bad Customer Experience
An average e-commerce company can face various types of issues that lead to a bad customer experience. From timed out transactions to payment gateway trouble to problems with the product, delivery issues, even after sales service issues.
Among the most frustrating aspects of customer service, the need to contact a company over and over again to fix the same problem is a huge source of irritation. Other factors that sour a customer’s service experience include being passed around from one agent to another during a single call and impolite behavior by a customer service representative.
Another study pins the blame for bad customer on long wait times, confusing automated customer care systems and inattentive and inexperienced customer care representatives.
The Cost of a Bad Customer Experience
Few things are as difficult to overcome as a case of bad customer experience. The old adage of ‘Once bitten, twice shy’ hold true as day for a user who gets the short end of the stick from a company. Risk aversion being an inherent aspect of human behavior, customers who face a bad experience once tend to shy away from having any dealings at all with the offending company. Switching loyalties to a competing brand or bad mouthing the offending brand to family and friends or on social media are common responses to negative customer experiences.
Studies show that 89% of customers who suffer a bad service experience will leave your brand for a competitor’s. According to the Global Customer Service Barometer’s findings, customers are almost twice as likely to talk about bad experiences with a brand as good ones. The problem however does not end with negative word of mouth. This negative word of mouth, combined with customers dropping off your charts after a bad experience lead to a real loss to your company annually in monetary terms.
According to KISSmetrics, the average value of every lost business relationship in the U.S. amounts to $289 per year. On being added up, lost business due to bad customer service costs the global economy a staggering $338.5 billion per year!
However, a botched service episode is not the end of your company’s relationship with the customer. There have been enough and more cases of successful service recovery, with the customer ending up pleased instead of being completely frustrated.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Bouncing Back from a Bad Customer Experience
1. Listen to them patiently
Listening. That’s the first rule of customer service. While many may consider customer service as a job that requires good conversational skills, the most vital asset any customer service rep can have is a great listening ear.
Have the patience to hear out a customer without bias or prejudice. Often customers are agitated and angry at a problem that your product may have caused them. It is the customer service representative’s job to calm them down and settle into a cordial space before proceeding. Ask questions at the appropriate times to get all the information needed to help in solving the customer’s problem.
2. Identify the problem
In order to help the caller effectively, the customer service representative must get to the root of the problem using some pointed meta-questions that answer the
- What is the exact nature of the problem?
- When did the problem initially occur?
- What actions (if any) were taken to stem the problem?
Other details like purchase data, ownership, warranties and service records may be pulled out of databases to supplement the customer’s information with background data.
A customer service tool like Zendesk or Zoho is a great asset in pulling out customer histories, maintaining records of current conversations as well as helping agents get product information and troubleshooting tips instantly.
3. Own up responsibility and apologize sincerely
As mentioned earlier, most customers who contact a customer service desk, do so when all else fails. They are usually frustrated and irate at your company for the immediate problem that they’re facing.
Owning up responsibility for the problem and apologizing for the trouble that it caused them goes a long way to pacify an incensed customer. Be earnest in the apology, a cosmetic one does nothing but make the customer doubt your company’s credentials even more.
There could be cases when the problem is not really your company’s fault and has occurred due to external circumstances beyond your control. However, in such cases too, apologize. The reasoning is simple. You are not apologizing for causing the problem. You are expressing regret that your customer is inconvenienced and this empathy is something that the customer needs to know to feel better.
4. Find a solution, quick
The keys to customer satisfaction in such cases are speed and accuracy. In fact, according to a customer service study by Parature, the number one priority for a customer during a customer service interaction is speed. They expect a resolution to their problem within a single interaction, avoiding the need for repeated contact with the company.
Instead of making your customer service representatives figure out a solution for each customer’s problem from scratch, it is a good idea to have a customer service handbook readily available containing the most common service requests and product problems and the step by step resolutions to each of them.
Automate this process by uploading the handbook into your customer care tool or CRM and allow agents to use simple search functions to pull out the appropriate solutions in a jiffy.
5. Deliver, with the customer in the driver’s seat
Once the solution to the customer’s problem is figured out it is imperative to let the customer choose the next course of action. Offer them all the options they can pick from and let them indicate their preferred solution.
This does two things effectively. First, it puts the customer in the driver’s seat and makes them feel empowered. Second, it absolves the customer service agent from future blame as the solution that you finally go ahead with, is based on the customer’s explicit preference.
At this stage, depending on the severity of the problem, it is a good practice to offer a partial or complete refund of the user’s transaction amount as a goodwill gesture towards them. Some companies offer a special gift card or a high value coupon to customers as a peace offering. This gesture has the added benefit of having the customer return to you for a new purchase.
6. Follow up
Most companies end their customer interaction at step 5. But a company that intends to excel in customer service ought to go one step further and check how well the solution has taken root. This can be done with a customer satisfaction survey emailed to the customer a day or two after their last interaction with the company or even better, with a personalized call to confirm that all is well at the customer’s end.
The surprise element in this gesture will delight most customers, increasing their preference towards your brand in the process. A follow-up also helps to identify any loopholes in your customer service process. If the customer continues to face the same problem as before, this fact will be highlighted through a follow-up activity.
7. Document to prevent repeats
While most problems that customers face are commonly faced, expected problems to which you typically have ready solutions; sometimes there are brand new issues that crop up which increase the scope of your service processes. Every time such unique problems crop up, set up a system to document the entire troubleshooting process end to end, including:
- Document the problem
- Dig deep and find out why it happened
- Find a solution / document solution offered
- Include the problem and the corresponding solution in the standard operating procedure manual and train staff on how to deal with it
- Set up a system to prevent a recurrence of such a problem
8. Update customer records to improve service for future transactions
In this era of big data and extensive customer records, every piece of data helps in improving customer experience and offering them personalized service. Make sure that every interaction that your company has with existing customers is recorded and updated into their individual customer records. These records form a rich customer history which you can fall back upon in the event of a future interaction with the same customer.
Records of past service interactions also helps to improve conversion rates of future transactions. By offering a live discount coupon or spontaneously displaying a specialized offer to a customer who had a bad experience in the past, you can increase their chances of completing the current transaction.
Case Study: Winning Back Customers’ Trust with a Smile
Customers are not an easy lot to please. But a company committed to delighting its customers does reap the rewards in kind. Southwest Airlines – America’s favorite airline, is renowned among other things for its great customer service.
But even the best guns in the business misfire sometimes. But Southwest being Southwest, managed to turn the situation on its head and created yet another happy customer. Here’s how the whole episode unfolded.
A Southwest customer B.J. Schone, had his brand new suitcase badly ripped on a trip from San Diego to St. Louis. In spite of repeated requests for a solution to his problem, he got nowhere. Frustrated, Schone sent this colorful letter to Southwest, detailing his woes:
Southwest Airlines, played by the book and went a step ahead. They not only apologized and reimbursed the customer for the actual price of his suitcase, they even took a leaf out of his book to create a similar colorful reply and poked a little fun at themselves in the process.
What a great way to make a customer feel special and show off your fun-loving side!
Customer service can be a challenge or an opportunity based on your point of view. Research shows that customers prize the quality of a brand’s customer service even above price. Over 55% of users would pay extra if they were guaranteed good customer service.
Lose customers to bad customer service or earn a premium over your competitors by offering customer care that truly cares for the customer – the choice is pretty simple.
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