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Win The Battle, Lose The War

Dealing with customer concerns

November 12, 2008
By Kelley Robertson


If you, someone in the company, or a defective product, caused the problem, it was your fault

Dealing with customer concerns, problems and issues is a fact of life when you sell a product or service. And every person in sales has certain customers who are more challenging to deal with.

Some situations start as minor difficulties, but quickly escalate into huge drawn-out battles. Unfortunately, many sales people unknowingly cause situations to escalate.

My wife overheard a conversation in a local grocery store. From what my wife could gather, the customer had bought some fruit (seven plums) that were not to her satisfaction. She wanted to exchange them and the “customer service” person told her to get the replacement plum and verify them with her before leaving the store. The customer did so. End of story.
Problem solved. Quickly, easily and without hassle.


Well, not quite.

You see, as the store employee bagged the new plums, she said in a condescending tone: “You know, we normally charge for the difference in price. So you’re lucky today.”

I guess she was assuming that the weight of the customer’s new plums weighed more than the returned ones or perhaps the price had increased since the original purchase.

As you can well imagine, this did not go over well with the customer. She
immediately exploded.

“I should be happy? You should be paying me for my time and trouble and be happy that I’m not shopping at your competition. In fact, based on your tone with me, I will go to your competitor.” The customer then stormed out of the store.

It was obvious to my wife that the customer service person made an unnecessary comment. The interesting thing is that this occurs more frequently than people think. Too many sales people feel that they need to point out a customer’s mistake or get in the last word to show the customer how much effort went into solving the problem.

But your customer doesn’t care about that.

If you, someone in the company, or a defective product, caused the problem, it was your fault. And if the situation is your fault, you owe it your customer to solve it quickly and without hassle.

They don’t need to know why the problem occurred or how difficult it may be to resolve. They just want a solution. Here is an example:

We used to buy two to four cappuccinos per day from a well-known coffee chain and the barista frequently added too much milk for our liking. When we questioned how the coffee was made we usually got a response like this: “Oh, it’s made properly, you just want a dry cappuccino.”

No, we didn’t. A dry cappuccino does not have enough milk. Because of the hassle, we invested in a cappuccino machine and now make our own.
From time to time, I get calls and e-mails from people who order my audio CDs. While I take great pains to ensure high quality, sometimes the sound quality is less than perfect, or the CD simply does not play. When someone contacts my office, we do not challenge them or ask them 20 questions before we issue a replacement. We send out a new one that day.

This may seem a simple concept to apply. However, the challenge is your ego. Most people feel the pressing need to get the last word. They want to make it clear to the other person where that individual went wrong because it helps them feel less taken advantage of.

Many sales people have large egos. After all, this helps them deal with rejection and challenging customers. However, it is critical to recognize that these situations are not about you. They are about helping one of your customers get what they want and resolving their problems.

Behaving in a manner similar to one described above may make you feel better and lessen the pain of dealing with a challenging customer. But let’s look at the financial impact for a moment. The comment from the baristas at the coffee chain caused us to buy our own machine, which represents a financial loss of $15-20 dollars per day for that particular coffee store. That’s $5,400-$7,300 in lost revenue every year for that location.

Here is the bottom line: Getting the last word may help you win the battle, however, even if you do win the battle, there is a good chance you will lose the war. That means your customer will find a reason to jump ship and shift their business to one of your competitors.

Are a few last words that make you feel better worth that loss?

Kelley Robertson, author of “The Secrets of Power Selling,” helps sales professionals and businesses discover new techniques to improve their sales and profits. Receive a free copy of “100 Ways to Increase Your Sales” by subscribing to his free newsletter available at Kelley conducts workshops and speaks regularly at sales meetings and conferences. For information on his programs contact him at 905-633-7750 or

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