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Don’t Be Spooked By Customer Complaints

Serving customers means fielding complaints—that’s the nature of business. What can make or break your company, however, is the way you respond to a complaint. In these “moments of truth,” every customer-focused individual in your company needs to be equipped for the inevitable. Developing and following a system is critical. The R-PAST model (Restate, Probe, Answer, Support, Trial Close) is one path through the often scary maze of handling customer complaints.

Restate the Problem
Restating the problem assures that you understand it, and knowledge is power. It gives you time to think and puts you on offense, ensuring you retain control of the situation. Your customers hear the question restated and find themselves needing to defend their position.

Probe the Problem
Dig deep- don’t just scratch the surface. Effective probing will qualify the complaint: is it legitimate or simply a ploy? What lies at the base of the complaint, and how does the customer really feel? Probing ensures you gather all the facts before responding- it allows you to bring appropriate responses to the table. Very rarely will there be a “one size fits all” solution. Asking the tougher questions reminds the customer that you are there partner and that you want to do them justice by helping ensure smooth sailing even through rough waters.

Answer Their Concerns
Fielding their complaint with an appropriate response lets your company showcase its best practices and show off your “A-game.” While the solution could utilize many possible answers, depending on the situation, the proper attitude and delivery can be perfected. Not only are the right words important, but also the right look or stance- your nonverbal actions- frame the way your words are received.

Support Your Customer
By offering your support to the customer, assuring them that you can handle this problem, you can make your company shine. By discussing the benefits you can provide, the unique factors you bring to the table, and your company’s value-added services, you have an opportunity to sell yourself all over again. They realize that while you’ve made this mistake you’ve got the services to make it right and enhance the relationship as a result.

Trial Close
Attempt to bring things to a close. After you have made your support bid, the trial close helps bring the customer’s true opinion to the surface, along with the true complaints. By formulating a trial close, you are able to take the customer’s temperature- are they warm to the solutions you have presented?

Plan of Action
Developing an R-PAST solution for your company requires teamwork; in order to know how to combat complaints, you first need to know what they are. Bring your staff together and brainstorm about all of the complaints they hear. Give the complaints a “voice” by putting them in quotation marks- they will seem less abstract and more deal. Prioritize them in order to develop the most urgent responses first.

When developing responses, be aware that while some problems may require a specific, management-approved response, there may not always just be one right answer. Some complaints may have numerous good answers. Employees will feel more comfortable with delivering answers which they truly believe in- allow your personnel to “own” solutions by encouraging employees to develop individual solutions.

Don’t overlook the importance of group input, however. Keep your team’s complaint-handling abilities sharp by holding skill-building exercises in meetings. The further you think outside the box, the more likely you are to be able to compartmentalize problems and put the lid on them as they occur.

Share the Harvest
Share the fruits of the R-PAST plan-building process: work to integrate the ideas into your veterans’ best practices while also reducing the learning curve for new hires. Remember that your plan is a living document; as your business grows and changes, your customer’ needs (and complaints) will also change. By maintaining a “feedback loop” from both customers and employees, you will be able to anticipate not only the directions in which your company will grow, but also where problems may rear their head. Once you know what you are up against, you can ensure the road to growth and success is a smooth one.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
Don Buttrey Meet the Author
Don Buttrey, president of Beavercreek, Ohio-based Sales Professional Training, Inc., has worked over 22 years for a manufacturing company that was built and dependent on distributors. Buttrey is an expert in selling skills training. He has extensive sales and marketing expertise in inside/outside sales, international sales, industrial distribution, product engineering and manufacturing.


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