Auto Laundry News - March 2011

Unhappy Customers — How to Satisfy and Retain Them

By Sharie Sipowicz

Everyone does it, including you and me: we get angry. It is a normal emotion. However, the way we manage our emotions when dealing with unhappy customers often determines whether we retain the customer or not.

It takes a lot of work and patience to calm customers who yell or threaten to take their business elsewhere, sue, or report you to the Better Business Bureau. For these reasons, you must be prepared to deliver outstanding customer service.

The completion of detailing services can be delayed occasionally for a number of reasons. That is a fact. But, have you or your employees discussed different situations that may come up, or practiced customer-calming techniques? Having a well-prepared plan, with options you can provide customers, is key. If you or your employees approach an angry customer with uncertainty or use weak vocabulary, the customer will get even angrier. You must understand how to calm angry customers, but it is a learned skill. Actually, it is a life skill.

Even rational customers get angry, not based on the actual situation, but often because of a previous experience they had with your company. If you have treated them really well when there were no problems, they know that you will be there for them when a problem actually occurs.

A new customer, however, has not yet developed this level of trust. For many, it will take a few visits to your business and several interactions with you before they feel you can be trusted. That is the nature of the detail business. Whenever a customer feels you have not communicated honestly or do not have their best interest at heart, you have the possibility of having an angry customer if something unexpected occurs. Remember, it is all about customer perception.

Here are some steps to help you become skilled at calming angry customers and retaining their business:

1. Listen; be Quiet
Whenever a customer does get angry, it is important to turn on your ears and zip your lips. When people get angry, the tendency is to blame everything on whomever they first come in contact with. Remember, the best way to calm an angry customer is to accept all the blame personally. Be fully accountable and do not say a word during this phase. Do not interrupt customers as they are speaking for any reason. This just makes them angrier. Absolute silence on your part is critical to calming an angry customer.

After the customer has finished the story, remain silent and thoughtful. The customer may ask, “Are you still there?” This is another calming technique. Remember that thoughtful pauses are powerful in calming angry people. By being silent, you have accomplished a major goal: getting them from Mars (where all angry people temporarily reside) to earth where you can communicate with them.

It is best not to take what the customer is saying personally. They are yelling to you, not at you. At this point, they see themselves without recourse. They see you as holding all the keys because you literally and figuratively are. The customer feels vulnerable.

2. Repeat the Complaint
Reconfirm what the customer said by saying: “Let me see if I have this straight.” Then paraphrase back to them the notes you have taken. You took notes while they were talking, didn’t you? Writing down information makes your customer feel important. In addition, if they are swearing, it is another calming technique. When you ask them to slow down because you are taking notes, they quickly get that you are writing all their words. Any method you can devise to slow down the rate of the conversation to between 100 and 120 words per minute has a calming effect. Even though you may understand completely what the customer’s complaint is, be sure you take the time to paraphrase what you think you heard. This step increases the likelihood of having a more rational exchange of information. In paraphrasing, ask several times if you are correct in your understanding. Tip: Use closed questions so their response will be “yes.” The word “yes” calms people.

3. Apologize
The next step is to apologize for what has happened, even if it is not your fault. It is important that you accept full responsibility for the situation. Do not blame an employee, or anyone, or anything else. You must apologize for what has happened and tell the customer you will help them: “I apologize for this inconvenience/what’s happened. I’m here to help you.”

4. Verbalize Resolution
Tell the customer what you are going to do and how soon. Tip: The sooner the better. Ask, “What can I do to satisfy you?” When they tell you, do it.

Seventy-five percent of customers prefer staying with a business that resolves their complaint quickly. Contrary to popular belief, customers would rather not look for another shop with which to do business. They will remain loyal to the business that treats them with respect, honesty, and courtesy.

5. Thank the Customer
Thank the customer for bringing the matter to your attention. Every complaint should be reviewed with employees. Do not complain to each other that a customer was unhappy; this is not a way to figure out how to handle a similar situation in the future.

Do you have a customer-service policy about saying “yes” to customers? Do you fear that what the customer primarily wants is a refund or some other form of restitution? Not true. What customers really want is for you to show you care about their wellbeing and have a willingness to offer them options when things go wrong. Do you say “yes” more often than “no” to angry customers? Consider what would happen to your level of customer loyalty if your business philosophy became, “Our goal is to always say yes.”

6. Follow Up
Lastly, and most importantly, make a courtesy follow-up call to the customer no more than three days after the incident has been resolved. You will note how surprised the customer is by your call. This courtesy call takes one minute of your time and ensures you retain a now-happy customer for life. It seals the deal.

It is simple, isn’t it? All you have to do is be the person you want your customer to be.

Sharie Sipowicz is aftermarket sales manager with Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems Inc. She has been involved in the detail industry for over 20 years, both as a vendor of products and equipment and as a hands-on operator in a retail detail environment. You can contact Sharie at

Home | About Us | Contact Us | Media Kit | Editorial Calendar | Events | Links | Archives

Auto Laundry News is published by EW Williams Publications Company
2125 Center Avenue, Suite 305, Fort Lee, NJ 07024-5898, USA Phone: 1-201- 592-7007 Fax: 1-201-592-7171