As a finance company, interacting with customers is the forefront of our business, and having a good customer experience is quintessential to our success. We work hard to serve our customers and our dealers' customers with the best customer service, but we have to admit, we do still encounter some customer complaints. Guess what? That’s a good thing. Customer feedback, good and bad, helps an organization discover their differentiators and their areas of development.
I recently spent a little time with Jill Hockaday, a leader for our Account Support function at GreatAmerica, and she shared insights on how to best mitigate customer concerns and how to use those experiences to grow your business.
Tell me a little about you. What is your role at GreatAmerica and how long have you been part of the team?
Jill: I am an Account Support Leader. The Account Support function is the front-line for our Dealers and lessees when they have agreement or invoice requests. I’ve been in this role for two years and have been with GreatAmerica for ten.
What advice do you give your new team members when handling more challenging situations?
Jill: Don’t take it personally. When a customer calls in upset, they are upset at a situation, not a person. Be sure to listen to the entire story prior to jumping in to solve the problem. What usually happens is a customer calls in about one thing, but by listening to the entire story, you find out there is a more primary concern that can be solved with a small change. Be sure to find out what their process is and work backwards. You may have a solution that will ease their base need.
As you train new members, what do you teach them to help mitigate customer concerns?
Jill: I tell new team members to listen. I tell them to make sure you understand what the customer is asking for and have an open mind. A frontline worker will have to follow policies and procedures that are in place, but also need to be flexible. It’s a leader’s responsibility to give them the independence to make decisions in the gray area to make a customer happy.
Recently you attended a webinar hosted by Jay Baer, CEO of Convince & Convert. In Jay Baer’s “13 Words You Never Use When Replying to a Customer”, what stood out the most in how you interact with customers?
There were several words that stood out to me on this list that I apply to my own work and to those I train. I’ve learned that some of these words most definitely inflate the situation:
“Our” – Do not say “our” when speaking with a customer. Make your response more personal. It can’t be our company talking to your company. Saying “I” or “my” makes it a person-to-person conversation and shows that a person is solving the problem not a company.
“Try” – Obviously, if a person is in customer support they’ll always try to help, but customers need to hear that your customer support will do everything in their power to help them. “Try” is not a commitment. It tells a customer that when you hang up with the call you’re probably going to forget them and stop “trying”.
“Fault” – Do not play the blame game. It won’t help your company if you blame someone else for the issue. If there is something someone else did, do not throw them under the bus. It could lead to the customer only trusting one customer service representative and not your organization. It is not a safe holistic approach moving forward. You need to show your customers that the team is there to help them…not just one person.
With the industry becoming increasingly competitive, why is it more important than ever for Dealers to keep their customers happy and embrace complaints?
Jill: As the saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” You can’t know if there is an issue out in the field if your customer isn’t telling you. Wouldn’t you rather have them tell you, solve the problem, and all they remember is how helpful you were as opposed to someone who never speaks up, lives out their lease frustrated, and walks away at end of term. Remember, it’s so much harder to engage new customers rather than keep your current ones.
According to Hug Your Haters by Jay Baer, customer experience is all about expectation management. What do you think about that? How could a dealer create customer expectations?
Jill: We’re all customers. We all have an expectation of what we want to have done and not always what can be done. As a company, you need to know what those expectations might be and where they’re coming from. Maybe they’re saying your competitor can do it. All you can do is educate your customers on what you can do, and they may find that exceeds their expectations.
Jay Baer also says 80% of companies think they deliver a great customer experience, but only 8% of their customers agree. Why do you think that disconnect happens?
Jill: The disconnect happens when people write out their mission, vision, and principles, but aren’t truly living it. Keep your customer experience top of mind, not just for new employees, but for all employees. Give opportunities to share customer experience successes as well as negative experiences to help everyone in the organization grow.
An unanswered complaint decreases customer advocacy by up to 50%. Though it hasn’t always been easy, you’ve likely had to answer some difficult complaints over the years. What approach has worked best for you?
Jill: My approach is to listen to the whole situation then take the time to look into the situation and let the customer know a specific time in which I’m going to get back to them. Even if I don’t have an answer by then, I reach out and acknowledge their concern. It all leads back to setting customer expectations and following through on your commitment. These small acts can build loyalty.
Anna: To summarize, negative feedback should be embraced and it's not a scary event. It isn’t always easy to hear from unhappy customers, but those customers push you to better yourself and your business.
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Jill Hockaday is an Account Support Leader for the GreatAmerica Office Equipment Group. Hockaday joined GreatAmerica in 2007, after spending 15 years in a different industry. In her current role, she is responsible for the performance and development of team members, along with helping move the Account Support function forward through the planning and carrying out our annual strategic initiatives.
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