How to turn problems into customer loyalty

I recently visited a store to make a return.  I suspect that few people relish this particular type of retail encounter – not the employees, not the customers. Both sides often seem prepared for a debate at best and an argument at worst.  It is an unexpected relief when the experience is seamless. The product I had purchased failed to meet reasonable expectations. Something you would expect to easily last a year or more wore out in a very short span of time. Sales receipt in hand, I headed to the counter.

It bears mentioning that this retail brand has a reputation as a customer service leader.  The manager looked at the item that I have brought back and asked how often I had used it. This question surprised me.  Does my answer impact the fate of this return? She goes on to say, “As a courtesy, we’ll refund your money this time, but this is what we consider normal wear and tear.” At that juncture, she opined that the particular item I purchased doesn’t last as long as others like it…

Was my mission accomplished? Yes. I was issued a refund. Did I feel cheerful about the experience? Hmmm. The manager’s approach to the return was accusatory and the permission to allow me to return the item seemed more of a gesture to appease not a commitment to reasonable customer satisfaction. I heard a warning that my “bad customer behavior” would be tolerated once and only once.

Invariably, some customers are emotional, erratic or unreasonable in their requests. Often the best we can do is try in earnest to help that customer walk away feeling whole. Sometimes the simplest word choices and “presumptions of positive customer intent” can help those who frequent our businesses walk away feeling more valued than when they approached. In my case, the manager could have simply and graciously said: “Thank you for taking the time to bring this back to us and share your concerns about its durability.  We value the opportunity to make it right. Sorry for your trouble.”  The manager knew she was going to take my return, per the store’s published and customer-facing policies.  But the policy seemed to be something she was working against and that she endured it in the context my brief interrogation and resulting placation.

So take a look around your business this week and ask yourself Are my staff members openly or reluctantly securing customer loyalty through a gracious and grateful response to customer issues?  What barriers can you eliminate to make service recovery effective, pleasant, and loyalty building?

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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