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Calming Comeback Customers

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Daren Pierse may run a shop with a near-perfect customer satisfaction index (CSI) record, but even his shop, Arizona Collision Specialists in Scottsdale, Ariz., has fallen prone to a customer comeback.

It’s a situation that Pierse takes especially seriously, whether the problem is real or perceived.

“This is the key for me: It’s how the customer perceived us and the repair that we did,” he says. “It’s not whether or not it was accident-related or if the comeback was related to work that we do. It’s the fact that, at that given time, the customer perceived that we didn’t do what we said we were going to do.”

According to Dusty Dunkle, president of Customer Research Inc., a customer satisfaction indexing (CSI) company, Pierse’s concern is more than justified.

He cites a study by Harvard Business Review that reveals the significance of customer complaints:

     • One upset customer will tell 14 people about their bad experience.

     • If the business lets the customer vent their complaint, the customer will only tell seven people about their bad experience.

     • If the business makes an attempt to resolve the situation, that number decreases to zero.

     • If the business successfully resolves the problem, the customer will tell five others how great the business is.

What’s more, Dunkle says the issue has become even more critical thanks to the recent popularity of social media.

“It’s even more dramatic because of social media. It’s those statistics multiplied so many times over,” Dunkle says. “The people that take the time to write reviews are the extreme: They’re either really happy or really upset.”

And according to Dunkle, Generation Y is increasingly turning to the opinions of third-party content and online reviews.

“They’re not trusting what the business is saying on their website and advertising,” he says. “All of a sudden, it’s trending more and more important that you have to keep customers satisfied.”

Dunkle and Pierse outline a simple five-step process that any shop can implement to correctly resolve customer complaints.

1.) Express empathy.

Pierse says that the first key to resolving customer complaints is to have empathy for the customer.

“We need to understand what is important to them throughout this before we start telling them anything,” he says. “We need to see this comeback through their eyes.”

While the tendency might be to get defensive or roll your eyes, Pierse says it’s important to remain calm and understanding.

Instead, start by apologizing, even if the problem wasn’t your fault. Let the customer know that you are sorry the shop did not meet their level of expectation and ask how his or her trust can be earned again.

Pierse also trains his front-office staff to understand the various personalities of customers through personality testing, allowing them to understand how to deal with different customer types, from the aggressive to the more reserved.

“Everyone’s personality is different so their degree of tolerance is predicated off their lifestyle,” he says. “Once we know their personality, we know how we’re going to deal with them.”

2.) Actively listen.

While having empathy and compassion is important, it’s impossible to do so genuinely without listening. Pierse says to let the customer vent for two minutes and ask them key questions about how they can resolve the issue.

He warns that sometimes shop owners assume the customer’s only concern is getting their vehicle redone as quickly as possible, when in reality, they have other priorities that are more pressing.

“She might be concerned that she can’t get to her kid’s soccer game tonight,” he says. “You’ll quickly understand what their concerns are.”

In fact, Dunkle says that many customers just want to be heard and acknowledged that the problem happened and have fairly realistic expectations on how to correct the situation quickly.

During this time, Dunkle also suggests rephrasing the complaints so the customer knows you are listening and understand what they are saying.

3.) Review all documentation.

“We want to instill in them that we are the trusted advisor for our customer and we are the expert,” Pierse says.

That’s why having the proper documentation, estimate and notes on existing and accident-related damage is so important.

Pierse says that before speaking with the customer again, go through all of the documentation so you know everything about the initial repair.

Doing so will not only lead to a more informed conversation with the customer, it will also allow you to understand if the problem was the shop’s fault.

“You get into the situation where you’re going to have to have a tough conversation and it might not be accident related,” Pierse says. “You need to build up that trust by being an expert so that when you explain to them everything you’ve done, they understand.”

4.) Keep the customer informed.

Next, explain exactly what was done in the first repair, the root cause, and the steps to be taken moving forward.

“The inform component is the process from this point forward,” Pierse says. “It mirrors the initial customer experience. We want to say, we’re going to do x, y and z and explain that process to a T.”

Throughout the discussion, Pierse says to make it a point to ask for approval from the customer and if the decided-upon steps fit with their schedule.

Dunkle says that CSI surveys show that the collision repair customers are overall least satisfied with the amount they were kept informed of the progress of their vehicle, so Dunkle says it’s especially important to maintain communication throughout the second repair.

“If you tell them you’re going to call them at 10 a.m. tomorrow to let them know what you found, then you need to do that,” Pierse says. “If you just say, ‘We’ll get back with you in a couple days,’ that’s not enough. Then they’re constantly calling and following up, which creates more anxiety for them.”

5.) Follow up.

Dunkle suggests following up with the customer no more than two days after the second repair was completed. Besides checking in to make sure all of the problems were resolved, he also suggests thanking the customer for bringing the complaint to your attention and explain what you’re going to change in your business to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“They want to know that they’ve made a difference in your business and that you’ve taken the issue seriously,” he says.

Pierse says a follow-up call is also a way to make one last impression with the customer.

“We want everybody to be a proponent of us,” he says. “We all know that word-of-mouth does so much better for us than any advertising dollar we can spend. It’s how they perceive us and the repair that we did.” 

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