Resolving Customer Complaints and Conflict with the L-E-A-R-N Technique

Handling customer complaints is an important part of keeping your business healthy and profitable. If you want your customers and clients to come back again you must meet and exceed their expectations consistently. When that doesn’t happen you end up with a complaint — if you are lucky. A typical business hears from only 4% of its dissatisfied customers. The other 96% quietly go away and 91% of those will never return. A complaining customer is trying to help you understand where you failed to satisfy his or her expectation. In the restaurant industry when a customer leaves without expressing a complaint it is referred to as “silent customer’s revenge.” The owner never knows why the customer was unsatisfied — so there is no way to correct the problem. A recent customer service study revealed that 68% of dissatisfied customers leave because of an attitude of indifference toward the customer by the business. How are you treating customers? If you are not sure you had better start asking.

You should be thrilled and delighted that your client or customer cares enough about you and your business to take the time to complain. The good news is that 70% of complaining customers will do business with you again if you resolve the complaint in their favor. If you can resolve it instantly, 95% will do business with you again.

After twenty-five years as a team development consultant I have developed a simple, straight-forward approach for handling customer complaints and conflict. It is known as the L.E.A.R.N. technique. Each letter of the word “learn” stands for a particular action. Kathenes suggests that a majority of business owners, customer service representatives, and even spouses fail to follow critical steps in resolving conflict and complaints. Here are a few easy steps to get to the root of the problem and to find out how to make that client or customer a “repeater.”

LISTEN: Close your mouth and listen. DO NOT INTERRUPT!! Let him or her blow off steam, get it out, and, as psychologists and facilitators say — “vent.” Sometimes that’s all they really need to do. The complaint they have may not be the real problem. It may have been the spark that created the fury.

EMPATHIZE: Put yourself in their shoes. Take time to understand just how they feel. Then let them know that you understand their feelings. Empathize —do not sympathize. There is a difference. If you saw a man ready to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge you can empathize or sympathize. If you sympathize, you tell him how sorry you feel for him and try to talk him down. If you empathize, you really feel how he feels, so you either jump with him or you push him off. Actually, by understanding how your customer feels and letting them know that you understand their point of view, you rebuild the rapport critical to good service. That does not necessarily mean that you agree with them. It does however let them know that you care and understand their point of view.

ASK: Ask them what they would like done. Great negotiators always know what the other person wants. The only way to find out is to ask. You will usually discover that they want far less than you thought they wanted.

REASSURE: Reassure them that you will do what you can to resolve the problem. Sometimes resolving the problem is beyond your control, but you can do a great deal for the business relationship if you genuinely try to solve the problem. You do not have to commit to making any changes, but your customer or client must know that you do wish to fix the problem.

NEVER FORGET TO FOLLOW-UP: If you drop the ball, you compound the problem. Pick a specific date for resolution, or when you will respond. Then stick to it.

It takes about 6 times more effort and money to get a new customer than it does to retain an existing one. By looking at complaints as an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with clients and customers, you build your business on satisfaction and service. For many businesses, service is its only competitive edge. Let customers know you care and want to hear the bad news as well as the good. It will put you light years a head of your competition.

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