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From Disgruntled to Champion - How to Turn an Unhappy Client Into Your Best Customer

It's a salesperson's worst nightmare- the phone call that comes in from a disgruntled customer. Not only does it create extra work for you, but it cuts into your valuable selling time. But believe it or not, this is actually a tremendous sales opportunity and a chance for you to become a hero. Here's how to make this situation work for you:

Empathize With the Client

Though it may be difficult to keep a tight lip, just listen and let your customer vent. Listening allows you to determine what the customer is really angry about. Is it the actual problem that is causing his rage or is it how your customer looks to his superiors? Determine what the customer is really asking for and figure out how to deliver the solution. If higher level management needs to be addressed, this creates an opportunity for you to set up a meeting and establish a relationship. If your customer's business is being impacted, then you need to take quick action to find a resolution.

Establish a Plan of Action

Escalate the issue within your company and make sure it gets into the right hands within your customer service organization. Explain the urgency of the situation and request that the parties involved give you updates along the way. Schedule meeting times or conference calls throughout the day to give them specific deadlines and keep things moving. If you don't receive the expected updates, call them and push for resolution. Not only does this keep the pressure on, but it allows you to be the liaison for the customer. Be sure to update your customer on the progress at every step of the way.

Move up the Food Chain

Set up a meeting with your customer contact and his superiors. Bring in your own management and use this opportunity to show everyone involved how you are going to take action. Outline the plan for resolution and commit to updating everyone involved as your progress toward resolution- then be sure to follow up and meet your promises.

A meeting like this lets you meet executives and work your way up the organization chart, laying the foundation for future opportunities. Though you are meeting under unfortunate circumstances, once the problem is resolved, you will be remembered for your quick action and excellent customer service.

Offer a Concession

Since you don't want to offer refunds or credits, and even if your customer doesn't expect one, it's a good idea to make a peace offering. Once the problem is resolved, offer your customer a free trial of another product. The trial will not only make them happy, but could lead to a future sale.

You could also coordinate a dinner or trip to a ballgame to thank your new executive contacts for their patience and time. Does your company have a user's group meeting, trade show or annual conference coming up? Offer up some free passes. Attendance at events like these almost always leads to a sale. Whatever you do, don't just hand them a gift certificate or gift. Be sure to offer a networking event or something that leads to a future sale.

Another way to wrap up and put a problem to bed is to set a meeting with your new executive contacts. Does your company have an executive briefing center? Offer to coordinate an afternoon event and show the executives your entire product line, introduce them to your company's executives and learn more about your company's vision. If your company doesn't offer this kind of service, create your own. Bring an executive briefing to them by scheduling executives from your company to speak and present your full product line. Order a catered lunch, hand out gifts with your company logo and impress the attendees with your professionalism.

Unfortunately many clients have low expectations of sales people. But you can make this work to your advantage by exceeding their expectations, providing excellent customer service and showing them that you follow through on your commitments. It's the best way to build trust and lasting relationship and before you know it, your most disgruntled customer could become your best source of income.

Stephanie Chandler is the author of "The Business Startup Checklist and Planning Guide: Seize Your Entrepreneurial Dreams!" and the founder of http://www.BusinessInfoGuide.com, a directory of free resources for entrepreneurs. Sign up for the BusinessInfoGuide newsletter to receive hot resources and tips every month.

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