Strategy & Leadership

Customer Complaints; the Customer is Always Right, Except When They Aren’t

Whoever came up with the saying “The customer is always right” was wrong. If you really need a saying to guide you toward good customer service, try this one- “The customer pays my paycheck, so do what’s right.” It’s long winded, and doesn’t have the motivational speaker sound of “The customer is always right,” but it’s a lot more accurate and will serve you better overall.

If you’ve been in the heating and cooling industry for any amount of time, you’ve run across an unhappy customer or two, and learned that angry customers and HVAC seem to go hand in hand. It’s understandable if you look at our industry from the home owner’s perspective.

The biggest expenses to consumers is their home, their car, and big ticket home repairs like a new roof, siding, and (you guessed it) their heating and cooling system. Now look a little closer; a nice home or car is a status symbol, something you can show off to the neighbors. Heck, you can even show off your architectural shingles or genuine, artificial, Dutch-Lap vinyl siding, but what about the HVAC system?

Half of the system sits in the basement next to the cat’s litter box, the other half outside, hidden behind shrubbery because it’s considered an eyesore. Is it any wonder people are upset when this really expensive, less than aesthetically pleasing device fails to live up to their expectations?

Most contractors cringe when a customer complains and will do anything to avoid the confrontation; this is the wrong reaction. This may be cliché, but every complaint should be viewed as an opportunity to shine, and to make it shine you need to handle it correctly — because if handled wrong, it will be a mental and financial drain on you.

Here’s a little guidance on the subject from someone who’s been there:

  • Address the issue immediately. The longer you wait, the less chance you have of a clean resolution.
  • Speak with the customer in person if possible; personal attention equals immediate brownie points.
  • Let the customer state their concerns without interrupting him or her. Be neutral when listening to a customer; don’t shake your head or give other signals that can be interpreted as negative or confrontational.
  • Confirm you understand the issue by repeating the essentials of what was said and asking, “Is that correct?”.
  • Show empathy for their concerns. Remember that showing empathy doesn’t necessarily mean you agree, just that you understand it troubles them. Never patronize.

Now determine if the problem is real or perceived.

Is it real? Example: the complaint is about a noisy condenser; is the noise normal or abnormal for the unit? If the noise is normal, but you placed the unit outside a bedroom window, the problem is real, not perceived.

Is the problem perceived? Example: “The new system runs a lot more than my old system did.” If the new system is multi-staged it may be running in low capacity — this would be a perceived problem.

Is the problem real?

  • Are the customer’s expectations reasonable? If not, explain why. If they are, make it right.
  • Is the customer complaining about damage done to the home during the repair/installation? If the damage was done by your company, make it right.
  • If the complaint concerns money, the ball is in your court; only you know if the charges are justified. If the charges are justified, explain why. If they aren’t, make it right.

You may want to consider giving the home owner something for their trouble (real or perceived) like a basic maintenance checkup, air filters, or a coupon for future service. Add this after the issue is resolved so it doesn’t appear to be part of the resolution.
Remember, resolving customer complaints isn’t about rolling over and forking out money for no reason; it’s about doing what’s right.

Read more about customer service on The SmartVan

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