Transforming Tough Customers Into Evangelists

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Customer Service
Customer Service
Book Excerpt: Solve problems for challenging customers and turn them into an advocates

We've all heard the adage that customers who've had a problem solved often have greater loyalty than those who have never had a problem at all. When those customers are also tough customers, turning around their experience can create powerful advocates. Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest call this type of customer Gladys. "Gladys represents that challenging client that all of us have encountered," write Suttle and Vest in Who's Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer Into Your Biggest Fan. "We'd like to invite you to think of your Gladys as someone who can help you grow your business and your customer retention rate."

In following excerpt from Who's Your Gladys? Suttle and Vest tell the story of Professional Movers' Gladys, the "poster child" for the book, and an excellent example of how solving a problem for even the toughest customer can turn that customer into an evangelist who will recommend your product or service at every opportunity:

Eighty-seven-year-old Gladys has a reputation among her fellow retirement community members. She's known as a cranky complainer who is impossible to please. But to her surprise, when she called Andrew Androff's company, Professional Movers, to move her into her new apartment, she was treated with warmth and respect. When her sales rep, Chris, visited her home to quote the job, he noticed her prickly personality and made a conscious decision to focus on her spunk and tenacity. By the end of his visit, Gladys had bonded with Chris and booked the move.

On moving day, there was a mishap. One of the movers accidentally cracked Gladys's marble tabletop. Andrew knew that she would be furious. Determined to set things right, he prepared himself to let her vent before she could even think about possible solutions. As predicted, Gladys had steam shooting out her ears.

Andrew felt compassion for her while she vented and assured her that his company would have the table repaired, and that if she wasn't satisfied with the results, he would replace it. Although he continued to reassure her that things would be set right, she was still spitting mad. Gladys wanted to talk to Chris, who had sold her on the company in the first place, and Andrew promised to have Chris call her as soon as he came into the office.

Chris arrived dead tired after a long day filled with meetings with potential new customers. When Andrew told him about Gladys and asked if he'd be willing to call her, Chris responded, "No way. She's going to need more than a phone call. I'll stop by her house on my way home." Chris arrived at Gladys's house ready to comfort her through her anger and outrage. Then he assured her that he would personally oversee the repair of her table. This calmed her down, and she thanked him for coming over.

Unfortunately, the repair was less than perfect. Andrew knew that he had to set things right, even though doing so would be expensive. He called Gladys and promised that she could meet Chris at the marble store and personally pick out her new marble tabletop. Since Chris knew that Gladys didn't drive, he called and arranged to pick her up and take her to the store himself.

Gladys is now living at one of metropolitan Detroit's premier retirement communities with her new marble table. While it cost Andrew and his employee Chris extra time and extra money to make things right, the payoff was outstanding. Gladys tells everyone moving into or out of her assisted living complex that they have to hire Professional Movers if they want to work with the best movers in town. High and persistent praise from such a hard-to-please person attracts attention. As a result, Andrew's company is now the number one choice of movers for Gladys's retirement complex. By creating a culture that values compassionate connection with his customers, Andrew has built a referral base that has helped his sales grow by over 40 percent in two years.

This culture of connection has been particularly effective in building a strong business with senior citizens. Seniors often move from their homes to be nearer to their children or to retire to a senior community. Professional Movers has found this population to be a good fit for its particular style of customer service, so it put a great deal of effort into developing the market segment. Everyone at Professional Movers makes a practice of creating a human connection with her clients. The staff members show respect for their clients' wisdom, experience, and opinions. They also know how moving affects their clients, both physically and emotionally. It isn't easy leaving behind the security of their homes, their friendships with neighbors, and the familiarity of their routines. Andrew's employees are trained to be sensitive to the unique issues of downsizing. They are sensitive to the emotional connection to their precious family heirlooms that senior citizens feel as they leave behind the past. Professional Movers strives to give seniors the sort of service they would receive if their own family were doing the job.

"It's like we're their sons," Andrew said with a laugh. "We get very close with their families. We interview their caregivers and their social workers. It really helps us develop a customized process to address their concerns." This needs-based approach to both customer service and sales has helped the company become the top provider of moving services in metropolitan Detroit's retirement market.

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About the authors: Marilyn Suttle is founder of Suttle Enterprises LLC. Lori Jo Vest has been involved in relationship-based sales and customer service for over 20 years, most recently with television production studio Communicore Visual Communications. She lives in Troy, Michigan.

Excerpted from Who's Your Gladys?: How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan, by Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest. Copyright 2009 Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association, New York, NY. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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