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No matter how good your business is, you’ll eventually run into a customer with a complaint. It’s the nature of running a restaurant, selling computers, or doing just about anything where human error or uncontrollable circumstances can sometimes stand in the way of exemplary service. While every company messes up every now and again, expert John Tschohl says, “smart ones know how to turn a customer with a problem into a customer for life.”

In a helpful post for Black Enterprise, Tschohl outlines the “5 Golden Rules of Customer Retention.” “Customer retention is all about creating loyalty and a fan base,” he writes. “Customers will come back more often. Their loyalty is greater when they have experienced service recovery.” Scroll down to read his tips for retaining customers whose gripes might lead them to your competitors.

1. Say You’re Sorry and Offer Compensation — This one’s a no-brainer: If you messed up an order, Tschohl writes, offer free expedited shipping and a sincere apology.

2. Act Fast — When a customer has a complaint, Tschohl says, you have 60 seconds to respond. Otherwise, prepare to kiss their business goodbye.

3. Don’t Pass the Buck — Customers aren’t fools. They know when they’re being “passed along the chain,” so frontline employees need to take full responsibility for whatever went wrong.

4. Give Employees Power to Act— Whoever is answering the phone or dealing with customers at the front desk needs to have the power to make decisions, Tschohl writes. If he or she needs to get approval from management before offering, say, free expedited shipping, the customer will get annoyed about having to wait, and whatever compensation you offer will lose effectiveness.

5. Offer Compensation That’s High In Value and Low In Cost — “Customers will be pleasantly surprised and delighted with your company if you not only make things right, but make things better,” Tschohl writes. For instance, if you sell someone a faulty hard drive, give them a free extended warranty. The customer will feel better off, and it won’t cost the company a dime.


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