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Into the lion's den: how to sell to an unhappy customer

27th Apr 2015
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Do you ever have disappointed customers? Ever wondered what would convince them to buy from you again? If you genuinely care about your company’s customers, you may find yourself approaching those who are likely to give you a hard time. So, how do you turn them around? How do you change a disappointed customer into a delighted one?

The answer is actually very straightforward.

1. Fact-find internally

Before you do anything else, find out everything you can from your colleagues and internal systems. Speak with everyone you can. Make clear that you’re not carrying out a witch-hunt (in case people fear that they’ll be reprimanded for any previous mistakes). Discover as much as you can about:

• when the purchase was made
• why the customer bought that product or service
• who sold it
• why the customer was disappointed
• what was done (if anything) to remedy the situation
• how the situation was left.

2. Get the customer’s perspective

Armed with this information, it’s time to pluck up your courage and contact the disgruntled customer. You should expect a frosty reception and you need to establish quickly that you’d like to meet to try and resolve any problems or causes of dissatisfaction.

In the meeting, stay calm at all times. Sometimes, customers can get very animated and accusatory when they feel wronged and have, at last, found someone to vent their anger on. Keep repeating that your intention and objective is to resolve their dissatisfaction. Eventually, even the most emotional customers should calm down and understand that you’re on their side.

At this stage, you need to repeat many of the questions you asked internally so that you can fully understand the situation from both perspectives. Throughout this process, take care not to offer explanations or excuses, as this is the quickest way for customers to think that you’re not on their side at all!

3. Show understanding and remorse

Once you feel you have all of the information, repeat back to your customers what you’ve heard to ensure you have understood properly. It’s also critical to say that you’ll do everything you can to make things right. Express remorse that your company hasn’t succeeded in making them happy with their purchase yet. This is very different from accepting liability, which you possibly don’t have the authority to do without your manager’s permission.

As you leave the customer, commit to working hard for them to resolve the situation and let them know when you will next be in contact.

4. Make things right

When you return to your workplace, it’s useful to speak with the original colleagues to share the customer’s perspectives. This may reveal more information that perhaps your colleagues were reluctant to share originally. It may include errors on your colleagues’ behalf or unreasonable behaviour from the customer. This should complete the investigative process and you can now approach your manager to agree on the next steps.

When you’re with your manager, you should share your objective, which is to turn this unhappy customer into a happy and loyal one. A short synopsis of events and a recommendation of what you think it will take to resolve the situation should then be enough for your manager to support you.

With the solution agreed, meet again with the customer and share it with them. You will have proven to them that you are on their side and they can trust that you want them to be genuinely happy with their purchases.

5. Sell, sell, sell

Once you have turned any unhappy customers around, you need to check in a couple of times with them, to make sure that they are still pleased with the solution.

After a sensible period, you should feel entirely comfortable approaching them with news of any new products or services that they may find interesting. With luck, you can expect a warm reception.

Revisiting unhappy customers can be a nerve-racking experience. You may feel you’re entering the lion’s den. But, armed with a smile and a handful of strategies, you could achieve the impossible and tame even the fiercest creature.

Heather Foley is a consultant at www.etsplc.com, a UK-based HR consultancy and technology company

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