How about 25% off your next order?

I admit I’m rather a demanding consumer. I’m pretty sure I get it from my mom. She’s one of the world’s all time greatest when it comes to being a demanding customer.

And I think it’s good there are people like us around. No one else can offer businesses the quality of advice that their demanding customers can. They should thank us.

But most companies either ignore or barely tolerate demanding customers. They fail to train their employees how to deal with us. Often their goal seems to be just to pacify us and get us to shut up rather than really understand the problem and try to do something about it.

Too often, their approach is to throw money at us rather than listen to our valuable feedback. Recently I had some copying done at a local office products store. They usually do a good job but this time they dropped the ball all over the place. It turned into a comedy of errors by the time it was over.

As I finished explaining to the manager the litany of problems, he ended by apologizing and offering me 25% off my next order. This is a common way for people to mollify customers who have had problems.

But I don’t think it’s effective. There are two problems with this solution.

First, it ignores the current complaint. Instead of offering me a bribe to come back, tell me you’re going to take action to prevent this from happening again. Or at least tell me you’ll try.

Deal with my complaint. Don’t just throw money at me.

The second problem with this solution is it does nothing for me now. And if I’m upset because someone has wasted my time or inconvenienced me, then I want something now. If you don’t do the right thing I might not come back. In that case the 25% offer amounts to nothing.

So, if you want to compensate your customers when they get bad service (which is often a good idea) then do something for them now. Don’t play games.

When someone offers me a discount on a future purchase, it tells me they are thinking of themselves, not me. Their offer is designed to get me to come back. In other words, their focus is on themselves, not on the customer.

If they were focused on the customer (me) they would address the problem now and they would compensate me now.

Another things happens when you offer a discount on a future purchase as compensation for a problem. Assuming the customer does come back, if they use the discount, they are reminded of the poor service they got last time. So to a certain extent, they get to relive the problem.

Is that what we really want?

No, we don’t. What we want is for our customer to have a great experience so they come back because they WANT to come back. If they have to be bribed to come back then how loyal will they be once the bribes stop?

Here’s an easy yet effective system to use when a problem happens. Do this and you are virtually guaranteed to keep your customers coming back because they look forward to another great experience with your company.

1. Apologize

This is so easy and costs nothing. Yet it’s incredibly under-used as a customer service tool. Even if you didn’t cause the problem, you need to apologize. A sincere apologize enables you and the customer to move past the emotional (complaint) part of the conversation and get to the solution part. So, just apologize. It’s easy.

2. Fix the problem.

Whatever the customer complaint is, fix it to the best of your ability. Ask them what they would like done. Then tell them what you’re able (and willing) to do for them. Then do it.

3.Thank them.

Most customers never complain to you. They’ll tell everyone else. So when a customer takes the time to tell you about a problem, they’re doing you a huge service. Bill Gates says “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” So, take time to thank every customer who complains.

4. Move on.

Don’t beat a dead horse. Don’t keep apologizing after you’ve fixed the problem. Don’t promise them the sun, the sky and the moon. If you have sincerely apologized and you’ve fixed the problem then let it go. Just move on and help the customer do the same.

By following these four steps you’ve enabled your customer to share their concerns and remain a happy, loyal customer. And you’ve gotten valuable feedback about your business.