March 29, 2012

Success in sales is largely determined by the actions taken on a daily basis, and these in turn derive from a blend of the salesperson’s knowledge and attitude.  Basic attitude directs how situations are approached and is probably the single largest factor in whether a salesperson does the effective thing or sits idly by while business goes to the competition.

One skill where attitude plays an important part is in handing customer complaints, an area where sales process improvement in a company can provide large dividends.

The three main choices when faced with a customer complaint are to

• ignore the customer and his complaint, which can lead to a lost account and bad-word-of-mouth from the poor service;

• get defensive and argue with the customer, which might make a salesperson feel “right,” but will never result in a long-term win, and might make even make an unnecessary enemy;

• listen to the customer and use the complaint as an opportunity to make more money.

Salespeople that exhibit the first two characteristics have an opportunity for sales process improvement by changing their attitude and, therefore, tactics.

Leverage customer complaints to earn more business

To listen to someone attacking you, without interjecting your own opinions or emotions, is difficult for most people, but is a skill that should be learned by sales professionals.  The first step in turning complaints into sales gold is to simply listen to the complaint, even if it is unfounded.  Do not interrupt, and take lots of notes so you can feed their complaint back to the customer when he is done.

Allowing him to vent thoroughly, and then acknowledging the complaint by feeding it back lets him know he has been fully understood, and is the best way to get the emotional aspect of the case out of the way.  You can try to soothe and sympathize a bit, but if you are insincere about it, it can backfire.  The best thing to do is simply let the customer know he has been heard and understood.  If the customer does not feel understood—watch out, as this can lead to an escalation in emotion.

The next action is what separates the pros from the lesser salespeople.  Performing, or not performing it, has mostly do with attitude and a willingness to go the extra mile, as it will require more work.  The next step the super sales pro does is take responsibility and commit to solving the problem.

Solving problems will build a tremendous feeling of loyalty in your customers—and if you do it immediately, 95% of them will do business with you again.  If it takes longer to solve something, say in cases where several departments are involved, the retention rate is still excellent at 90%.

High-level salespeople do not stop there in their sales process improvement, however, and use this conversation as a base to follow up and make more sales.  A couple of days after the complaint incident, they call to ensure everything has been handled.  If the complaint was handled effectively, customers will be very open to a brief conversation that will allow salespeople to discover upselling opportunities, or at least ask for referrals to people the customers know who could benefit from the same excellent service they just received.

As you can see, a complaint can have a negative or positive outcome.  Attitude plays a big role in sales process improvement—you have to be willing to break out of your zone of responsibility sometimes and fix things that aren’t technically your problem.  Doing so will pay off handsomely with raving fan customers and more sales and referrals.