If your customers are satisfied with the products and services you provide and feel that they...

If your customers are satisfied with the products and services you provide and feel that they are treated appropriately, 84% of them will never go anywhere else.

Photo courtesy of Bill Packard.

Here in Mid-Coast Maine, we’re in the midst of the busy summer season. Everyone wants to visit Maine in the summer, and we love it. It’s fantastic to meet so many people from so many places, but increased rentals mean the increase in customers who are upset. As hard as we all try, it’s inevitable that some folks will be less than happy. How do you handle that?

A hardcore corporate line is one approach, but one I never use. Opening a dialogue is the first step to a positive resolution to any situation.

All of us at our location wear silicone bracelets with my trademark “Think like a customer” on them. Let’s look at things from a customer’s viewpoint and see if we can visualize creating a positive outcome. 

Unless something happened in your lot at car return, the customer has been stewing over the issue for some time. If they have called an 800 number, they likely are angrier than before they called. When they arrive at your location, they are hot! If they must wait in line, they are hotter! Many times, that can’t be helped, but understand that it contributes to the situation.

They already have compensation in mind to make good on their problem. They believe they’ll have to fight to the death to get it — and fight they will. After a brief description of the incident or issue, the next step for them is to tell you what you are going to do.

Now it’s your turn.

Just Listen

As they relay their story, don’t interrupt — even if they tell you that you’re going to have to comp the whole rental, adopt their whiney child, or provide a limo and driver for the rest of their trip. Just listen. They will finish much quicker if you don’t interrupt.

It is likely that their volume has risen to an uncomfortable level because that’s what people do when they are unhappy. This is the point where you need to take control of the situation. Up to this point, the customer has been in control and that won’t work.

Acknowledge Their Facts 

The second thing to do is to ensure them that you understand their situation and where they are coming from. You want to transition from you and them across the table, to you and them working on a solution. Acknowledging their facts is the first step. 

Don't "Call the Manager"

The next step is a little tricky if you have not empowered your staff. Your employees need to be able to do whatever they feel is correct without manager approval. If your employees don’t have that ability, you need to establish those guidelines and be certain that all the employees know what they are. 

A surefire way to go back to the beginning and start all over with the shouting voices is to tell the customer you’ll have to refer the situation to the manager. Before you make your offer, it’s very important to assure the customer at every opportunity that the person in front of them (you or a staff member) can help them. This starts to move them to your side of the table.

Make it Timely

Whatever you can offer, be clear that you can do it right now and get them on their way. If they want something more, counteroffer and if they refuse that, send them to customer Service or whatever the next level up is.

Make sure that you repeat that you did all you could do, but also you understand that they are not satisfied. Most of the time, with a reasonable offer, that won’t happen.

Agree, and Stand Firm

I remember a call I received from roadside assistance who had an extremely agitated customer on the other line. They had a leaking tire, but their level of agitation was much higher than it should have been for just a leaking tire.

I assured them that I would exchange the car as soon as they got to my location. Meeting face to face was even more unpleasant as the gentleman was so angry at this point, he could barely put his words together into a sentence. 

He had taken the tire to a garage to get the leak fixed on his own. They discovered a rope plug in the sidewall on the inside of the tire that was leaking. This customer was savvy enough to know that rope plugs are extremely unsafe, and an unacceptable and dangerous repair. He thought the company did it.

I agreed with him 100% but pointed out that we don’t do that, so it was probably a customer who didn’t want to be responsible for the cost of a tire, so they had the plug put in on the inside where nobody would see and returned the car. 

Because I had brought the customer down to my level, he was listening and agreed with me completely. He also told me he was transporting his grandchildren in the car and it was their safety he was really concerned about. 

Take the Long View 

Makes sense, right? I never would have known all this if we had continued shouting to each other. I exchanged the vehicle and offered him a dollar amount for his inconvenience. Do you think he took it?

Not only did he not take it, but he also contacted the company with some flattering comments.

Listen to the customer. Take control of the situation as early on as possible. Show empathy. Be empowered to appropriately correct the challenge. Resolve the matter before you deal with the next customer.

The potential revenue lost on that specific rental will be made up for with future rentals from a loyal customer.

Bill Packard is an Avis Budget Agency Operator with a long history of entrepreneurship focused on customer service. Packard also coaches small businesses on the significant value of increasing their retention rate. He can be reached at can be reached at bpackardme@gmail.com