When customers complain, our first instinct is to try to solve their problem. But customer complaints are multi-faceted, and solving the problem only rids the customer of the technical aspect of the issue. Customers who call in to complain are emotionally invested as well. In order to maintain strong customer relationships, we must focus first on the impact the problem has had on the client’s emotions. Ignoring this impact can be detrimental to your relationship, even if the technical side of the problem can be solved quickly and painlessly. Acknowledge, recommit and plan for action (ARP) is a recipe for dealing with customer complaints in an efficient and effective manner, both technically and emotionally.
Step 1: Acknowledge
The first step of ARP is to Acknowledge the customer’s pain. You don’t necessarily have to agree with them or shoulder all the blame. Acknowledging the customer’s feelings can be as simple as saying, “That’s horrible!” Regardless of the reason, your client is dealing with a negative impact that they associate with you. They want you to acknowledge that their emotions are valid. If you skip ahead and address the problem technically without first acknowledging it emotionally, they will most likely become closed off to you. They won’t be open to hearing the technical solution because they’ll be completely focused on getting you to understand and acknowledge the trouble you’ve caused them.
Step 2: Recommit
The second step of ARP is to Recommit to the client. It’s tempting to make excuses or place blame on other members of the team in an effort to maintain your personal reputation with the client. But in the grand scheme of things, the customer does not care about your personal reputation. They view companies as teams, not as sets of individuals. Blaming the problem on your coworkers doesn’t make you look better; in fact, all it does is show the client our weakness as a team. In order to strengthen the customer’s view of the company, be sure to recommit on behalf of the whole team. Recommitting can be as simple as saying, “This is not the standard we live up to here. We need to fix this, and I am committed to getting it fixed for you.”
Even if we see the problem as relatively minor or easily fixed, the negative impact it has on a client always feels significant to them. Clients sometimes overreact in the initial exchange because they’ve become so emotionally invested in the problem. But if you take the time to step back, acknowledge their pain, and
recommit, their attitude may soften considerably. They’ll realize that they underestimated your dedication. They may even apologize for being harsh. Now a stronger connection can be established, one based on trust and integrity.
Step 3: Plan for Action
Once you’ve Acknowledged and Recommitted to the client, you must complete the last step of ARP and create a workable Plan for Action. You’ve listened to the complaint, recognized the impact your client has incurred, and recommitted on behalf of your team. At this point, ARP is no longer about fixing the problem; it’s about eliminating the impact. In order to truly resolve the customer complaint, you must draw up a workable plan for action. Eliminating the impact may involve several steps that require a lot of time and effort, and your plan for action will help get you there. Remember to keep your client in the loop and provide them with dates for completion in order to prevent them from feeling any further anxiety.
Utilizing ARP is especially beneficial in terms of customer perception. Acknowledging the customer helps to prevent them from making a direct correlation between complaining and getting results. By trying to solve the problem without first acknowledging or recommitting, you are essentially training your customer to complain. They will quickly realize that when they complain, the work gets done. Applying the steps of ARP helps to break up the causal relationship between complaining and getting satisfaction. With ARP, when the customer complains, they are first acknowledged and then recommitted to. Only after these two things occurs does the work get done. It doesn’t get done as a direct result of the complaint, it gets done as a consequence of your recommittal.
ARP lets us view customer complaints in a whole new light: rather than dreading them as awkward conversations or extra work, we can now view them as opportunities. ARP gives us the chance to prove our dedication to clients in a way that wouldn’t have presented itself without the complaint. Think about the last time you had an issue with a product or service. Let’s say when you called in to complain, you experienced excellent customer service. When was your opinion of the company highest – back when hadn’t had any issues with them at all? Or after you called in and were treated with excellent care? Chances are, it’s the latter. When used effectively, ARP leads to stronger bonds with clients. A company that takes care of their clients both technically and emotionally is a company with an superior reputation and an excellent chance for long-term success.
© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.