What do you think about a Green Industry business owner who is happy to receive a complaint?

Is he or she crazy or simply not in touch with reality? Neither of the two answers is correct. You see, a wise business owner realizes that complaints are like gold.

He or she knows that this is an opportunity to fix a problem and to improve the business by preventing similar problems from occurring. They don’t look at the complaint as a pain in the butt.

A typical business owner hears from only 4 percent of its dissatisfied clients. That means the other 96 percent are not going to say anything. They will just speak with their feet and go to a competitor. Of course, they will probably tell many of their friends and acquaintances why they will never do business with that company again. They will list reasons: lousy service, how their situation was poorly handled by an employee or manager who just didn’t seem to care, or an incompetent business owner who doesn’t know how to run a company.

Yes, it is true that many times the client’s complaint is not warranted. Maybe the client didn’t follow instructions or misunderstood a policy. Every business gets its fair share of these scenarios.

Regardless of who is at fault, the client still thinks you made a mistake. It is the wise business owner who turns a problem into an opportunity.

On the other hand, there are times your clients have legitimate complaints. Somebody, including you, might have done something, or failed to do something, that caused the complaint to happen.

Again, regardless of who is at fault, the client’s problem needs to be resolved quickly and properly. If you can do this, you can keep this valuable client for life.

As customer service expert Michael LeBoeuf says in his book, How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life, there are three good reasons why customer complaint programs pay off handsomely:

• Complaints point out areas that need improvement.

• Complaints give you a second chance to provide service and satisfaction to a dissatisfied customer.

• Complaints are a wonderful opportunity to strengthen customer loyalty.

Let’s discuss how you can take care of your client with a complaint. Remember, the most important thing we can do when a client has a complaint is to simply listen to them.

Listen to them express their dissatisfaction with the service or product they have purchased.

This is probably the most important step in successfully resolving the complaint. The key is to listen long enough until the person doing the complaining feels like they have been heard and you get all the facts. Listen until you can get a clear picture of what went wrong and how you can correct the situation.

Let’s look to the field of automotive repair for an example of how to use this process to handle a client’s complaint.

One of my clients, Joe Falzon, owner of Signature Ford Lincoln Mercury in Owosso, Michigan, shared this story with me about one of his clients. This client had purchased a vehicle from one of Joe’s dealerships, and immediately took it on a vacation to the West Coast. About halfway back on the return trip, he discovered his front tires were showing signs of excessive wear. He soon spotted a Ford dealership and pulled in for some help. The service writer had the car examined and explained to him that the vehicle’s front wheels were probably out of balance and he should replace the two front tires. The owner reluctantly agreed, and even though it was a relatively new vehicle, he purchased two new tires.

About three-quarters of the way back to Michigan, the owner discovered that the front tires were beginning to show signs of excessive wear yet again. After arriving back home, he immediately took the vehicle into Joe’s dealership. Needless to say, he was extremely angry and demanded to see the owner and be reimbursed for the new front tires he had purchased from the out of state dealer.

Joe Falzon listened to the client tell what happened and then had the car thoroughly examined.

They discovered the car had been driven over some extremely rough terrain and the front end was badly out of alignment. Joe then explained to him the source of his problem and suggested that the front tires were still in excellent shape and could simply be rotated to the back of the vehicle.

Joe then asked the customer this magic question: “What do you want us to do?” The customer, seeing Joe’s concern, and honesty, thought a moment, and then replied, “ I would be happy if you would cover the alignment and rotate the front tires to the back.” Joe Falzon created a win-win situation where the client felt he got a good deal, and in turn, Joe earned a client for life.

So once you ask the question, “What do you want us to do?” you have the opportunity to listen some more. Once the client has finished telling you what he/she expects, you have a chance to get into action and provide that person with a practical solution. You decide what you can do. If the client is asking for something very impractical or unrealistic, explain to him or her why you can’t do that, but what you can do. Give the client options.

Interestingly enough, many times the customer will ask for something far less than you are willing or able to give. The key here is to ask them. Let them be part of the solution. You will be surprised at how well this approach can work.

If this is the kind of client you would want to keep for life, you may want to be more flexible in what you offer to appease him or her. It is a good idea to give them some kind of incentive to come back next time, i.e., a discount coupon for their next purchase, or a free product or service they could receive the next time they come back, if they choose to use your business products or services. On the other hand, if this is the kind of client you don’t want to keep for life, be pleasant, be fair, treat them kindly, and refer them to one of your competitors to take care of their future needs.

Once you have identified the solution that will be used, get into action and take care of it.

A day or two later, call the client and make sure that they are happy with the final outcome, and if everything is okay. If it is not, do what you can to make it right. Reassure them they are a valued client and you look forward to serving them the next time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tom Borg works with small and mid-size green industry companies to improve customer acquisition and retention. For more information or to ask him a question, contact him at 734-404-5909 or email him at: tom@tomborg.com or visit his website at: www.@tomborgconsulting.com.