Editor’s note: Ed Gagnon is president of Customer Service Solutions Inc., which specializes in customer retention and growth strategies, training, and measurement.
_______________________________________________________________________________________Have you heard the statistic that 82 percent of all complaining customers will repurchase from you if their complaints are answered and resolved quickly?

Compare that to statistics which state that only 54 percent of customers whose problems are solved will repurchase if the solutions don’t come quickly, and a mere 29 percent come back if their complaints are made but not resolved.

The lesson here is that everyone loves a Mr. Fix-It, and if you can be that handyman for your customers, they will remain your customers.

In January 2005, Coldwell Banker released results of a research study that concluded that customer service is the key to repeat business. The study found a correlation between the quality of customer service and an organization’s success at retaining clients. Among the top characteristics of a business from which they’d like to purchase again, a whopping two-thirds of them listed the resolution of questions and problems, while over one third listed being easy to reach as a key characteristic.

The message is clear: be there for your clients, and solve their problems quickly and efficiently. In the call center world, this ideal method of customer service is called “First Call Resolution,” and many of the key success factors in the call center world also apply to small businesses. But how can you as a small business owner ensure that your customer service representatives are able to achieve First Call Resolution?

The following tips may be helpful to you:

Educate staff on service skills: Make sure that your staff understand how to handle a complaining customer, getting their emotional level down and getting to the root of the problem. As we all know, a calm and logical point-by-point description of the problem is much more helpful to your representatives — and subsequently to your clients — than a heated, panicked declaration that something “won’t work.” In turn, make sure that your employees are educated in terms of resolution processes. Help them understand how to document issues, how to determine which resolutions will work in varying situations, and what if any compensation can be provided and under what circumstances.

Make sure that your problem resolution hierarchy is well-established: Under what circumstances must a service representative cease his own attempts at problem resolution and pass a complaint along to a manager? Severity, chronic recurrence or urgency of the problem can all be factors that necessitate managerial involvement. Your employees should know how to make these hand-offs effective; a manager should be educated on the complaint beforehand, and the customer should know that he or she does not have to restate the problem.

Empower your staff: Your service representatives should have the authority and the confidence to solve between eighty and ninety percent of all customer complaints and problems. The last thing a customer wants to hear is “Let me let you talk to a manager,” and the last thing a manager wants to hear is “This customer has a problem with our service.” You will save time and boost sales if you empower your employees to provide compensation if warranted and needed, giving them the ability to save the customers themselves.

As much as you want your customers to be happy, and as much as you hate to hear from a complaining customer, much of your work will be judged on how you respond to customer complaints. Your efficiency, courtesy and knowledge of the possible resolutions to customer inquiries and problems will ensure that your customers purchase from you again and again. Give your staff the education, empowerment, compensation, and expectations needed for First Call Resolution on customer complaints, and you’ll be your clients’ Mr. Fix-It.

Ed Gagnon is president of Customer Service Solutions Inc., which specializes in customer retention and growth strategies, training, and measurement. He can be reached at (704) 553-7525 or Ed.Gagnon@cssamerica.com.