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Ask the Experts: Let shoppers know they matter



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By Georganne Bender
By Rich Kizer
Published: January 12, 2017
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Question: How do you handle customer complaints? sometimes customers want more than we’re willing to give. how do I train my employees to handle these situations?

Losing just one customer isn’t such a big deal ... or is it? Take our “Cost of One Lost Customer” test (at bottom) using figures from your own store and find out.

It’s a lot of money, isn’t it?

Following the exercise, if we use just $20 as an example of your average monthly sale and assume a customer has the potential to be your customer for 14 years, that one unhappy customer would cost you $3,360 in lifetime sales.

But when you add in the 10 other people, that figure rises by another $33,600. Now, add in the original unhappy customer’s lifetime sales and the number grows to a whopping $36,960. That’s a pretty tough number to make up.

Steps to take
You need to have a customer service recovery policy in place, and we’re glad to see that you’re willing to invest in employee training. Here’s a good program to follow:

• Always assume that people are honest—and are telling the truth about what happened to them. Take every customer complaint seriously. No matter how small you think the complaint might be, it’s a big deal to the customer. If it weren’t, he wouldn’t bother to bring it to your attention.

• Listen carefully and ask questions until you’re certain that you understand the customer’s complaint. Open-ended questions are the best way to quickly get to the root of the problem. Remember to repeat what the customer told you, and then ask if you got it right.

• Apologize, even if it’s not your fault. If you say, “This is a great product. No one ever complained about it before,” the customer hears this: “What’s wrong with you? A kid could figure this out.” Instead, say: “I’m sorry you’re upset. Let’s see what we can do to solve this problem.”

• Ask what he would like you to do for him. It’s easy to get defensive, and it’s easy to think that the customer expects you to hand over the moon. Not true! Most customers just want you to fix the problem.

• In a day or two, call or email the customer to ensure that the situation was handled to his satisfaction. You’ll build positive word of mouth when the customer tells his friends what you did for him. Customer testimonials are 10 to 20 times more believable than what you say about yourself!

• Keep an eye on your social-media sites to see if the customer has posted his complaint. Check consumer review sites like Yelp, as well. In fact, go to Yelp right now and put your store name in the search box. Chances are good that you’re being reviewed on Yelp, even if you haven’t set up your Yelp business page. Do it. It’s free, and it gives you control over the details posted about your business.

• Keep a record of customer complaints, noting how each one was solved. Go over the newest entries at every store meeting, noting the common occurrences. Ask your team how they would have handled each situation. This will help your associates understand how to handle similar complaints in the future.


Customer service recovery lets your customers know that they, and not just their money, matter to you. The late, great Maya Angelou said it best: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


Cost of one lost customer


1. What’s your average customer sale? $ ________

2. How many times a month does your average customer come into buy? ________

3. Based on the questions above, an average customer will spend this much in your store in one month: $ ________

4. Now, multiply the number in question 3 by 12 to find what an average customer spends in your store in one year: $ ________

5. How many years is that customer potentially your customer? ________

6. Multiply the number in question 4 by the number in question 5 to calculate the lost lifetime sales of this average customer: $ ________

7. Now, if this unhappy customer tells just 10 other people about his bad experience and they decide to no longer shop with you, what’s the cost of this one unhappy customer? To find the answer, multiply the dollar amount in question 6 by 10 (that’s the 10 other customers), and then add in the original customer’s lifetime sales (question 6) to get the total answer.
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