Bad News Can Mean Opportunity

By Paul B. Thornton

By learning how to handle customer concerns and complaints, you can solidify your existing customer base while adding new, satisfied customers who will remain loyal.

Bad news can be the most useful news you receive – as long as your response to it remains positive. If you react to bad news by saying, “Shoot the messenger,” no one will want to share information necessary to improving customer service.

If you play “Blame the customer” every time a customer complains, you’re likely to find your company low on customers but just brimming over with news that would make Wall Street go into shock. Blaming the customer isn’t a smart or positive way to build sales.

If you deny and rationalize bad news by saying, “This data can’t be correct,” or, “Joe’s just having a bad day. Don’t worry about his comments,” you’re begging for Joe to look elsewhere for a supplier.

But if you view bad news as a gift – as a way of telling you that something is wrong that you need to fix – you’re on your way to increasing business because of your ability to respond to what your market wants and needs. By listening calmly with an open mind, truly trying to understand the problem, then taking steps to solve it, you will be taking the first step toward improving the situation. Customers want to be heard. They want you to pay attention, listen and consider their point of view. Here are three ways to respond to bad news.

1. Take the time to listen to complaints and problems. Make it a priority. Some people are so busy listening to themselves or fighting fires that they don’t have time to listen to anything else. You cannot be sensitive to customer concerns if you are constantly busy.

2. Listen to the complaint, remain silent and don’t interrupt. Too often people ask a question and, before an answer is given, they ask a second question. Practice the “stop rule”: stop talking and listen to the complete answer before asking another question.

3. Validate what you see and hear. Feed back to the customer your interpretation of the problem or complaint. An upset customer will generally begin to feel better when someone accurately acknowledges his feelings and frustrations.

The best sales representatives never stop listening to their customers. They ask questions and probe to find out if the customer was satisfied and if not, why not. They listen to problems and complaints without becoming defensive. They keep an open mind and never find fault. They thank the customer for sharing the complaint. They value bad news and use it to improve their product, service or business. Sales professionals are always looking for ways to improve their product, service or commitment to quality.