Recovery: The Conflict Resolution System
by Dr. Tony Alessandra
No matter how good the relationship is, people are going to run into problems. Consequently there should be a system in place to make it easy for customers to tell you when they have a problem as early as possible. The earlier you find out about a Moment of Misery (when you fall short of the customer’s expectations), the easier, faster, and less expensive it is to solve. Once you are aware of the problem, you should have techniques, systems, and procedures in place to resolve it.
Your communication skills definitely come into play as you resolve the problem through an effective conflict resolution system. Resolving problems and conflict, believe it or not, is not as difficult as you may think. Gregg Baron of Success Sciences and Robert Coates of CaDoCommunications, both of Tampa, FL., suggest several steps:
1. Handle the person first, then the problem.
Let angry people vent their frustrations. This alone will go a long way toward resolving the problem.
This is often left out, but it is a crucial gesture. Offer a sincere, personal apology, not one on behalf of the company. Show that you are committed to the relationship.
3. Find a solution.
Resolve the problem with your customer, not for the customer. Ask questions that will get the customer involved in the process. Some possible questions might be:
a. “How would you like to see this problem resolved?”
b. “What would be an acceptable resolution to this problem?”
c. “If you were in my position, how might you resolve this kind of problem for your customer?”
d. “Would a refund be acceptable to you?”
4. Take individual responsibility.
Immediately take over and make the recovery process easy for your customer. If there are phone calls to make or forms to fill out, you assume responsibility and do the work. If the resolution of the problem is going to be complicated, explain the system to your customer. People feel much better when they are informed rather than kept in the dark.
5. Make Amends, if appropriate.
If the Moment of Misery was severe enough, you need to say, “I’m sorry,” with a concrete gesture. Compensation should be:
Giving a gift long after the fact renders it meaningless and appears insincere. Give it immediately. For this reason, it must be clear to you what the parameters are for compensating customers as you see fit.
A meaningful gift is something that has high-perceived value to your customer. It should also differentiate you from your competition. Be creative—customize the gift to your customer’s personality. Don’t send flowers or a box of candy—everyone does that. Know your customer well enough to determine if a pair of tickets to a baseball game or a hot air balloon ride would be appropriate.
If you send a calendar or a clock to say, “I’m sorry,” your customer will be reminded of the incident every time she looks at it. Save those gifts for positive occasions. Your customer should be able to eat or use your recovery gift relatively soon. That way, the gift is appreciated and then out of sight and out of mind.
It should not be expensive. The combination of high-perceived value and low cost to the company is ideal, especially if you are compensating customers regularly. Giving away more of your company’s products or services may be appropriate (and inexpensive), but only if they won’t cause more problems. The worst thing you can do is offer customers more of something that has already caused them grief.
6. Follow up.
After resolving the problem, with or without a gift, you must follow up. As with any follow up, you will not only make sure things are satisfactory, but you will also look for additional needs that represent selling opportunities. Follow up is essential because there is nothing worse than a fouled-up recovery. A recovery snafu is a guaranteed way to lose a customer forever.
Moments of Misery will happen—hopefully not often, but they will happen. But when they do occur, it is a sound strategy to view those problems as the opportunities that they are—they give you the opportunity to show your customers just how much you care about them. Having an effective conflict resolution system in place and being prepared to use it will help you turn those occasional Moments of Misery into Moments of Magic (when you exceed a customer’s expectations).
Meeting standards of excellence in business has always been important, but in today’s marketplace, it is absolutely essential for your company’s success and survival. To meet those standards of excellence, you and your company must have a customer-driven orientation and provide customer-driven service—each and every time with each and every customer.
Dr. Tony Alessandra has a street-wise, college-smart perspective on business, having been raised in the housing projects of NYC to eventually realizing success as a graduate professor of marketing, entrepreneur, business author, and hall-of-fame keynote speaker. He earned a BBA from the Univ. of Notre Dame, an MBA from the Univ. of Connecticut and his PhD in marketing from Georgia State University. Dr. Alessandra is a prolific author with 27 books translated into over 50 foreign language editions, including the newly revised, best selling The NEW Art of Managing People (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2008);; The Platinum Rule (Warner Books, 1996); Collaborative Selling (John Wiley & Sons, 1993); and Communicating at Work (Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1993. Dr. Alessandra was inducted into the Speakers Hall of Fame in 1985. Visit his website at http://www.alessandra.com