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Customer Escalations: Why You Should Reward Customers Who Complain

By Special Guest
Ron Avignone, Founder of Giva
October 13, 2015

When a customer is truly unhappy, they often want to take their complaints from the bottom to the top; this escalation process is a scenario that most customer service departments try to avoid at all costs.

Customer escalations not only signify a dangerously dissatisfied customer, but they can also put undue pressure on even the most organized customer service chain of command. As an irate customer works their way up the ranks, employees may be forced to deal with situations they are not trained for, which can result in the further mishandling of the customer in question.

How to avoid such a mess? Create a customer service department that is built to prevent customer escalations, but be prepared to use those rare escalation cases to improve your company.

Turning a Negative into a Positive

They might not admit it, but many companies view the customer service department as a necessary evil. They act as if customers only call to complain, and their goal is simply to meet expectations and minimize the negative instead of capitalizing on the situation.

The truth is that interactions with irate customers represent an incredible opportunity. The customer paid you money, and now they are giving away some of their valuable time. Once you have done all that you can to solve their problem as efficiently as possible, you have an opportunity to leverage the interaction into a long-term relationship.

Success or failure depends upon how you handle the situation. The key is having a customer service culture that welcomes all feedback and criticism. In fact, you must train your customer service agents to ask for feedback beyond initial complaints—and not be afraid to do so.

  • Be proactive. Consider immediately reaching out to customers when you know about a problem, even before they call. This is not the time to think about minimizing costs. Instead, consider it an investment toward winning your customers’ trust and future business.
  • Create a strong first line of defense. If there is a problem with your products or service, the customer service department will be the first to know. Coach your agents with a standard script so there is always a consistent message in difficult situations. Every phone call with an upset customer should begin with a heartfelt and sincere apology, taking responsibility for the issue at hand.
  • Amaze and delight! Amaze your customers with free replacements, upgrades or service coupons. Giving them something unexpected may not only appease their anger, but is likely to make them return to your company again. Figure out how to amaze and delight your customers every time they call you with a complaint, and you will build a stronger relationship with them.
  • Keep asking for more. Some of your customers may act shocked when you ask them for unsolicited feedback. Keep “peeling the onion” on your customers. Uncover their needs, even if it is not quite on the surface. If the customer service department has managed to solve a customer problem on the phone and the customer seems satisfied, then you are in a good position to leverage the phone call. Ask customers for ideas to enhance the current product and build entirely new products. You can also conduct market and competitive research with the right questions.
  • Make it personal. Do you really want to impress a major customer? If you are a senior executive or the head of customer service, give an important customer your personal cell phone number and tell them that you are reachable anytime. Your problems are their problems.
  • Take advantage of a customer “crisis.” Like any good team, you have to practice; after all, practice makes perfect. You have a number of “plays,” and people need to know their parts. Let everybody know that all hands must be on deck in the event of an escalation. Do a debrief after it is over. What worked and what did not? Use this as an opportunity to test your key players. Can they work as a team? Are they willing to go above and beyond the call of duty? Are they creative problem solvers? As a leader, you can get your team in shape during these stressful situations. In a real, live situation, your team should be giving their best.

After the Escalation: Keeping the Customers Happy

Your company may have handled the customer service crisis with aplomb, but don’t stop there. Some of the most crucial steps come after you have hung up the phone with your customer.

  • Perform rigorous customer satisfaction surveys. Use technology to automate this process. Call customers out of the blue and ask how things are going. They may be surprised, but they will probably give you some valuable feedback. For major customers, make a point to call and meet every four months. Take responsibility for the level of satisfaction that your team is providing.
  • Quote your customers. After you have amazed and delighted your customers, it is time to document some of your successes. You have earned their admiration and respect. Now it is time to leverage that loyalty and spread the word. Post short video clips of the people who are featured in the customer case studies. Use the power of the internet. Use their words to promote your services moving forward.
  • Woo them. Remember when you were courting someone you cared about? You did crazy little things like sending them notes with candy, calling them to check in, and keeping your commitments when you made a promise. Are you with me? This is the role of customer service. They should be charged with the care and feeding of relationships for the long term.

Ron Avignone founded Giva in 1999 and is based in Silicon Valley, California, serving customers worldwide. Giva was among the first to provide a suite of help desk and customer service/call center applications architected for the cloud. Ron holds an MBA from the University of Chicago and is a New York State Certified Public Accountant with a minor in English. Ron is also an avid endurance athlete, vegan and mindfulness advocate.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere
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