Long lines, impossible parking lots, the overall stress of the season — it’s no wonder you see frazzled, frustrated customers during the holidays. And who can blame them? Well, apparently retailers can. In a recent survey by alldayPA, 76 percent of respondents complained about brands’ reluctance to apologize for problems, while 47 percent said they had “personally been blamed for the complaints.”
Not a great plan, retailers. What’s the alternative? Consider these five tactics to help keep customers happy, your salespeople sane and your business unscathed by the madness of the season:
1. Be a consultative partner, not a salesperson. In times of stress, customers need to be reassured, not sold. If they have a complaint or an issue, they want to feel confident you’re there to help them find a solution. If they feel like you’re only trying to get past the problem in order to sell a product or make a profit, a reasonable conclusion might be a tall order. It’s your responsibility to make sure the customer feels the two of you are in this together — both working toward a mutual solution.
2. Don’t take anything personally. While it might seem like the customer is angry with you personally, they aren’t. They are, however, displeased with the quality of the product or the service they received. And you, good or bad, represent the source of their pain. If a customer starts to yell, keep your cool to help mitigate the situation. Being respectful and understanding, even if the customer is rude, will give you the best chance of smoothing things over. In short, don’t make yourself the problem; be the problem solver.
3. Have options and know the value of each. Once you’ve come to understand why the customer is unhappy, you can then offer a solution. In order to do that effectively, you must be aware of every possible option to fix the situation and the value of those options. While you want to make the customer happy, you need to be sure you’re providing a solution that’s valuable to both the customer and your brand.
4. Listen. When a customer is venting or otherwise expressing anger, they’re often just looking for a sympathetic ear, for someone to understand where they’re coming from. Start by listening with patience and respect — a critical first step in negotiating a positive outcome. Then, repeat back to them their complaint to show you understand. If you have additional clarifying questions, ask them. Use positive body language like maintaining eye contact, nodding and avoiding crossing your arms to show them you’re listening. And finally, express sympathy. They’re having a bad customer experience and, while that isn’t expressly your fault, they need your help.
5. Apologize … even if you don’t think you should. Regardless of the legitimacy of the issue or the complaint, apologize. Just apologize, particularly if you want to retain the customer. No matter if you’re apologizing for the problem, their disappointment with your product or service, or just that they’re upset, a “sorry” can go a long way. Even if you think you don’t need to, or the fault is on the customer, an apology can keep that customer spending money at your store into the new year.
While the holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year, they can also be the most stressful. Help your customers deal with the craziness of the season by being a sympathetic resource every time they walk through your door.
Paul Dobbins is national director of sales and account management for Fortegra Financial Corporation, a Tiptree Financial Inc. company. Fortegra and its subsidiaries comprise a single-source insurance services provider that offers a range of consumer protection options including warranty solutions, credit insurance and specialty underwriting programs.