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Americans are good at a lot of things, many of which they can be proud about as a nation. However, one of the not-so-elegant qualities that Americans happen to be especially good at is their ability to complain.
According to a recent study conducted by the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, more than 50 million Americans had an issue with a product or service they purchased within the past year. Those problems led to more than $58 billion of transactions potentially at risk for the businesses involved.
"The good news is that, if a company handles your complaint well, it will enhance your brand loyalty and can even add to its profitability," said Professor Mary Jo Bitner, executive director of the Center for Services Leadership at the W. P. Carey School of Business. "The bad news is that ineffective customer-complaint handling may be even worse than not responding to the complaints at all."
Most companies may think that they have the preparation in place to handle any and all dissatisfied patrons, but it's tough to know for sure until an irrational customer actually presents himself.
Following are two cases where customers acted irrationally, and a tip from each case explaining how the businesses dealt with them:
Tip #1: Have contracts in place
"We recently had a pretty ugly customer dispute," said John, operations manager at a home repair shop in Cincinnati, Ohio. "A customer of ours tried to dispute her final balance and say that she was misled or unclear about the total bill when she had signed off on it three separate times. It was an unfortunate situation and one we'd like to avoid, but ultimately, the customer was not right and we had to be stern in order to maintain our integrity.
"I think this is important to note because many companies will kill themselves for customer service and loyalty, and rightly should in many situations. However, the model of losing money to please people and hope for future business is not sustainable for many businesses, and our story on this matter is especially poignant in that regard. The power of sound, upfront contracts is huge; not only to protect yourself should a dispute arise, but also to set parameters for expectations on both sides to avoid dispute from the beginning."
Tip #2: Cover your tracks when other businesses are involved
"One of our worst customer service experiences occurred with a customer who called us from her local police station," said Bill, a customer service rep at a printer cartridge retailer in Atlanta, Ga. "She received the products that she ordered, but since we happened to have her particular order shipped by a partner vendor she completely freaked out on us, saying that we shared her personal and financial information with another company. After being hung up on, screamed at, and threatened repeatedly, I was finally able to talk the customer down.
"Since she wouldn't give me the opportunity to speak it wasn't until we were minutes into the call that I was able to explain to her what had happened. The net was that none of her personal or financial information, other than her mailing address, was shared with anyone. Now, anytime we have a partner vendor ship our products, we send the customer an email so they know to expect the order from someone other than us!"
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