Turn a Client Complaint into Positive Word-of-Mouth, Part 1

No matter how hard you work to provide the best service for your clients, there will always be times when problems arise. If a client calls you and is obviously distraught or even angry, how you respond at that very moment will impact your ability to resolve the situation—and turn a negative complaint into a positive outcome.

Furthermore, it will also determine your capacity to turn a negative occurrence into a positive prospecting opportunity. For example, in a story I share in the latest edition of my book, Prospect & Flourish, a long-time friend, mentor and life insurance agent, I. David Cohen, recalls this story when a client had a problem:

Years ago, I received a call from one of my clients because the company I represented made a mistake by withdrawing the incorrect amount from her checking account. When I answered the phone, I could tell she was upset. I needed to understand fully what had happened.

Even though I was not directly involved, I apologized. “We screwed up,” I said.  “No, I know you weren’t…” my client began to respond. “No,” I interjected, “We screwed up, and I apologize. I will correct the situation immediately. How soon can we meet for lunch so that we can discuss the issue to make sure that your needs are being met?”

The fact was, I wasn’t directly involved, and it wasn’t my mistake. But it was still a reflection on me. I am her representative. To her, I am the company. Now, I’ll find out what went wrong, and make sure it doesn’t happen again. I will tell the company how it affected my client and thus how it affected me.

However, doing that does not involve my client, and she will not know anything about those conversations. It does not help her to listen to my petty excuses or defensiveness. What my client wants to hear is that the problem is being resolved and that it is my top priority. No excuses are necessary. Just fix it and move ahead.

When such a complaint situation occurs, even if the client is particularly irate or even hostile, you have two choices:

  1. You can become defensive, and deflect blame and responsibility.
  2. You can empathize with your client’s pain and seek greater understanding, and resolution of the problem.

Which response will create results that are more positive? Let’s consider this further: what “truth” about you does the client glean from each of these courses of action?

Becoming defensive reveals a truth of selfishness. “You have a problem, but my first concern is with protecting myself, regardless of any level of direct responsibility I may have for the situation.” Shifting the blame for mistakes never works!

Empathy and understanding sends the message that you are caring, responsible, and professional—even in situations where the client may be angry or even hostile. Because one person loses his cool does not give you the excuse to do likewise.

The truth revealed: “I care about you. My priority is to make certain that your issue is resolved and that we can move forward with a positive relationship. I am equally responsible for what goes wrong and for what goes right.”

So how do you turn a complaint into positive word of mouth? You’ve already begun to. We’ll learn more next week.

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