Upset Customers? Not in Our Industry, Right?

[Editor's Note: Bob Harris is joining as a regular contributor of business management advice and theory for dealer/installer and monitoring companies. He brings 30 years of his own experience from that industry before he left in 2003 to offer customer relations advice to a variety of companies, ranging from monitoring companies to telecom providers. You'll be able to find Harris' columns on our Dealers section and on our Central Station Monitoring section.]

In our industry your "satisfied" customer is eight times more likely to switch to a competitor than your "delighted" customer. Keeping in mind the amount of money invested in generating new sales, together with how many new customers must be added each month to keep up with those you lose, some dealers are beginning to realize they must make a meaningful deliberate effort to help train people to better handle customers who are angry or upset. And unless you have a deliberate strategy for nurturing customer relationships, it's definitely not going to just happen by itself. Good customer service doesn't just happen; it has to be created and nurtured in your employees.

Many alarm industry employees never think about the list of things that can infuriate clients -- and the list is long, believe it or not. Incorrect billing, lack of empathy, waiting on hold, being fed excuses, being told "no" the wrong way, and employees who have not been trained on ways to handle really upset customers are just a few of the things that can get your customer's blood boiling. Having the knowledge to turn an upset customer into a delighted one requires an intentional effort which, if done effectively, will pay off for many years to come.

Many business owners I speak with feel that the definition of effectiveness is "to do things right". I suggest that doing things right might provide great success, but with very few exceptions, I believe a better definition of effectiveness should be "to do the right things". What do I mean?

"To do the right things" can "effectively" turn an angry customer into a long time loyal client. But what are the "right things"?

The Six Basic Steps

There are six basic steps which we all know but which we often forget about when the yelling begins. I challenge you to take these six steps to your team and ask them to improve upon them. Consider having an outside professional come in to host a workshop with your front line staff. The positive effects will amaze you and help improve your bottom line for the long term!

1. Let your customer vent his or her feelings. Above all, don't tell them to "calm down" - this will only make things worse. Learn to zip your lip and not take what they say personally. Anyone married? What happens when you interrupt your spouse while they're venting? By allowing your angry customer to vent, you are letting the other person let off steam and expend energy. You allow yourself to truly understand his/her problem by quietly listening, and you buy some time to devise reasonable options and alternatives.

2. Don't get trapped in the "negative filter" about your customer. Instead, focus on asking yourself the question, "What does this person need, and how can I provide it?"

3. Express empathy for the customer's situation by using empathic phrases and apologizing. Some key phrases include: "This must be so frustrating for you"; "I see your point of view"; "I hear what you are saying"; "I'm so sorry that happened." Sharing a sense of empathy does not assume responsibility for something that's not your fault. It simply conveys to this customer that you truly care about the situation.

4: Work to actively solve the problem. Gather the information you need by asking the right questions, and let him know you are serious about resolving the issue as quickly as possible. Action alleviates; inaction exacerbates.

5: Tell the customer you will take personal responsibility to work with others on a solution, and follow through with it to completion. Then follow up with your customer once the situation is resolved. Be willing to "not know" all the answers. Admitting that you don't know, but that you will find the answer, can be a sign of strength which garners trust from your customer.

6: Come to a mutual agreement on the steps necessary to reach a solution. By always being as inclusive as possible, the customer feels that he has been taken seriously and has had an active part in resolving the situation. Remember to UNDER PROMISE and OVER DELIVER. This will exceed his expectations and make you and your company a hero in your customer's eyes.

Customer problems can be turned into a good thing! Always remember that if there is never any contact with your employees; the customers may begin to feel that all alarm companies are exactly the same - and so why not go with any competitor? When you resolve issues really well and nurture the relationship, you add value to the service you deliver, increase customer loyalty, and shine bright in the eyes of your subscribers.

IN THE FORUMS: Dealing with Upset Customers Join into the discussion about how to deal with irate alarm and monitoring customers in our Forums --> "Dealing with Upset Alarm Customers" thread

About the author: Bob Harris is managing director for The Attrition Busters. With over 30 years in the alarm industry, he provides seminars, business consulting, and workshops to help great companies become even better. Bob can be reached at (818) 730-4690 or by email at Learn more about The Attrition Busters at