My service manager just passed a letter to me. It came from an irate customer. I think the customer is dead wrong, and just blowing off steam. What do you think I should do?
Thoughts of the Day: Whether your company is right or wrong, this customer just did you a favor. Think about the reasons listed in the letter. Decide who’s accountable for the loss, and make them become part of the solution.
Every lost customer is an opportunity to learn more about how your company handles itself. Consider this a wakeup call. Even if you can’t get this customer back, you can try to figure out who’s likely to leave next, and what to about it.
Because this customer just wrote a letter, the door to communicating is open. Seize the opportunity. Write back, and follow it up with a phone call. Minimize damage from this loss as you learn what to do to insure future customers stick with your company.
Let the customer know you appreciate the feedback. Say that it’s not the policy of the company to frustrate customers, and that you want to learn more about what happened. Even if the customer is in the wrong, find out why there’s a mismatch between customer expectation and your company’s ability to deliver.
Get to the bottom of the disconnect. Check out all notes on previous transactions. Ask yourself, and your employees a number of questions.
- Should your company have taken on this customer to begin with?
- Did the relationship shift from good to bad, and if so, what caused the shift?
- What did this customer need that your company couldn’t supply, but could supply in the future, and how could your company make money doing so?
- What would it cost to get the customer back, how long would they stick around, how much would they buy, at what profit? Is it worth trying to get them back?
Perhaps your staff didn’t understand how to take care of the customer. Or, they could have thought the customer’s requests were unreasonable and they acted to protect the company. Whatever the reason, make sure that employees understand the cost of the loss and become part of the solution for making it up.
When sales is charged with getting customers, and operations isn’t charged with keeping or replacing lost customers, a revolving door can open up. Work comes in the front door, and quickly goes out the back door. Sales costs increase as word gets around that your company has problems keeping customers. Opportunity to disperse the cost of sales across multiple orders is gone as customers quickly pack it in.
Instead put performance review measures in place that make people in operations take the hit for lost customers. Have a hand-off process between sales and operations when new customers come on board. Once operations accepts the customer, it’s their baby to keep.
Consider if there’s a need for training. Do people in operations make the connection that customers pay for their jobs to exist? Do they have the skills to communicate effectively, especially when there’s a problem? Can they conduct diagnostics and create alternate solutions?
Make operations responsible for the solution. You may want someone outside of operations to do the direct research with the customer, to avoid head butting and to get accurate feedback. Once the feedback is in, however, turn back to operations and ask how they’re going to make up for the loss. What can they do to expand other customers? Do they need to cut back personnel to preserve operating margin?