One of the ways to create goodwill, positive buzz, and happy customers is to exceed expectations. Responding proactively to problems is, in my opinion, one of the easiest ways to exceed the expectations available.

Problems happen, that’s a fact. You can choose to respond to customer challenges, problems, let downs, screw-ups, and mistakes in one of two ways. You can ignore them and create the kind of friction that drags your trust into the ground or you can respond in such an over-the-top, out of control, nobody does that kind of way that can turn problems into gold mines. If you want to exceed expectations, choose the latter!

For the longest time, Nordstrom had a policy that granted refunds with no receipt, no time limit, no questions asked. A variation of that policy still remains today. This policy is often an example given whenever someone talks about customer service. But it’s really a signature response to a customer problem, and it’s become something that creates incredible word of mouth for them.

Creating what I call your signature response to problem-solving takes a little thought, planning, implementation, and even training, but it can become a very valuable tool for your organization. I’ve mapped out four things you can do to quickly, proactively, and creatively address customer problems with a signature response of your own. 

1. Invite and reward customer feedback

The first step to making problem-solving a core marketing system is to encourage your customers to tell you when something’s not right. This may sound like a simple thing, but there is plenty of research that suggests somewhere near 90% of your customers experiencing an issue will simply go away quietly unhappy.

You should clearly state in all your marketing copy that you welcome feedback and won’t rest until your customer is thrilled. Spell out guarantees, return policies, and make it very obvious how to get in touch with you via phone, mail, live chat, web, or email. You should also build satisfaction surveys, results reviews, and even random phone follow-ups into your standard operating procedures.

Of course, it’s not enough to just ask for feedback and then send it down a black hole; you’ve got to respond.

2. Create a response

In order to get the full impact with this idea, you need to design the manner in which you will automatically respond in order to solve a customer problem. Some of this can and should be handled through clearly spelled out, no strings attached, guarantees, and return policies, but you need to add some flair as well. Adding some creativity in this step is how you turn a response into a signature response. For example, does the CEO show-up with a bouquet of flowers, does the customer immediately receive a month of service free and a dedicated service rep to help guide them through the challenge, do you do whatever it takes to make it right?

The key here is to do something that gets the customer the result they are after but also offers a little ‘wow’ that they can’t help but notice because it was unexpected.

Occasionally, we receive notes from customers who have purchased one of our products but feel it isn’t what they thought it would and want to return it. We cheerfully refund their purchase price, but instead of asking them to return it, we ask that they make it a gift to another business owner. It’s a pretty simple thing on our part, but it really creates a warm response each time we offer it.

3. Act quickly

Speed matters in problem-solving – especially in a technology-filled world that caters to and sustains our desires of instant gratification. You need to act quickly. A fast response time makes customers feel that their concerns are important. In a study by CMO Council, the most important attribute of a good customer experience, according to the customers themselves, is a fast response time.

Zappos is well known for its incredible customer support. They have live chat, email, phone, and social support available 24/7. Customers expect their problems to be solved and fast – it’s another prime example of a signature response they designed for themselves.

4. Empower your team to fix the problem

Another really important piece of the problem-solving puzzle is blame. When you make a mistake, admit it, and move to fix it. When your customer makes a mistake, well, move to fix it. There’s no gain in getting the customer to admit they were wrong, even when they are. One of my favorite business expressions said to my staff in my best dad voice is: Fix the problem, not the blame.

The way to make sure that your signature response to problems is actually delivered as designed is to empower your staff to fix the problem, not the blame!

Let them know that while you have a set of policies designed to make their life simple and your business profitable, they can do what it takes to make the customer happy. Now, if that makes you more than a little nervous that you will be taken advantage of then perhaps you need to refine whom you are attracting as customers. There will always be people who try to take advantage of your willingness to please, but the key lies in setting the proper expectations upfront in all of your marketing messages.

Saving a deal gone bad by reacting in a way that is generally unexpected is how you create positive buzz and customers for life.

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