5 Step Process Saves Most Any Customer Relationship

05/27/2016 11:00 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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I often tell people that customer experience, customer service and customer relationship management are really mostly about having the right processes in place to support the customer's journey. Below is a 5-step process I have used hundreds of times over the years and want to share with you:

1. Seek to Understand.

If you are knee deep in a failing customer relationship, it is critical to move the person(s) away from thinking that you do not listen to nor understand them. It is your role to first seek to understand and not try to be right or the first to speak.

A few years ago, I spoke with a very angry customer who was pretty fed up as he was invoiced for an amount he did not owe. To make matters worse, the invoice had a threatening message on it alluding to the fact that we could not continue to do business with his company unless he paid his account current.

To say the least, he was at the end of his rope and was calling to cancel. I wasn't sure if I could be successful in keeping him as a customer, but the first thing I did was to ask him to explain exactly what happened.

I did not interrupt him. I listened patiently and properly acknowledged I was listening and interested in what was threatening our relationship. I then summarized what I thought I heard to make sure we were on the same page.

Seek to understand first. Be understood much later.

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Mahatma Gandhi


2. Acknowledge Your Role.

In the interaction described above, I first listened and remained patient and engaged before making any assumptions about whose fault it was.

Then, I acknowledged the role that our organization played in creating this issue. I did not fight him at all. I was very apologetic.

That threw him off a bit and took the fight out of the conversation.

Now, he could get to an objective place where he could listen to me and the options I provided him.

I also asked him what he thought we should do to make it right in order to keep him as a customer.

After he told me what would make him happy and stay with us as a customer, I committed to him to do very certain steps by a certain time and report back to him.

He was happy to know that I would do what it took to keep the customer relationship alive!

3. Act to Impress.

Now, I had his trust. What would I need to do to keep it and build upon it?

Do what I said I would do.

I went about researching his account, meeting with internal teams who could affect the change he was seeking and polishing up processes.

Then, I called him when I said that I would and delivered the news of the journey I took on his behalf. I let him know that we were able to meet his request and actually went further than what he asked.

He was impressed!

4. Confirm Status of Customer Relationship

Once I closed the loop with this previously upset customer, I made sure to confirm where we started and what he said he needed to feel validated and cared for. Finally, I confirmed with him that our resolution and service met his expectations.

This was a key step, because it would be presumptuous to assume we could move on. I also made sure that there was not anything else he needed from me before thanking him for his patience and confirming that he would stay on board as a customer.

You know what they say about ASSumptions!

5. Watch and Repeat.

So, another large account saved. I was feeling pretty good about myself.

What did I do next?

I put reminders in my calendar to follow-up with the internal teams to make sure they delivered on their promises to fix things. I also followed up a month or so later with the customer to make sure things looked good on his end.

Simply put, I owned the problem, solution and follow-through.

If I noticed any possible barriers waiting in the wings, I stomped on them before they presented a problem.

I would consider it a failure if the customer saw the same issue again.

If he did, I would repeat this same process again, but with much more egg in my face.

Happy Saving!

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Thank you for reading this post. I hope that it was useful to you as a practical way to save almost any customer relationship. Because we want to help people have more effective customer conversations, we created a Partnership Review template for in-person or web-based customer meetings. Click Here if you need guidance. What other ways have you managed to save a customer relationship from ending?

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