Nine Steps to Resolve Customer Conflicts Before Things Get Nasty

How do you build customers for life? Quickly address complaints and learn to forecast problems that will set off restroom users.

Nine Steps to Resolve Customer Conflicts Before Things Get Nasty

Jeff and Terri Wigley

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This month, we are honored to take on a question from Jeremy Johnston from On Site Cos. of St. Paul, Minnesota. Johnston was the Portable Sanitation Association International 2019 runner-up Service Technician of the Year. Johnston was recognized as an outstanding example of the model employee in the portable sanitation industry.

Russ Holm, vice president of On Site, writes “Jeremy Johnston consistently goes the extra mile to ensure the customer’s satisfaction, upholds PSAI and company service standards, and lives our company’s core values each and every day. Jeremy has gone above and beyond on numerous occasions, even going as far as relocating to a new branch. When it comes to job safety, customer service, service quality, dependability, initiative and positive attitude, Jeremy sets that standard that his team members look up to and strive for.” 

Question: Johnston asks, “Can you provide some good advice for conflict management while dealing with customers on the site?” 

Answer: Conflict management is a serious matter, but one that can ultimately be used to increase customer satisfaction.

No one wants an upset customer; however, this is a reality in any business. Working in portable sanitation, compliments may come infrequently when service is good, but complaints come quickly when unsanitary conditions arise. Be prepared and have a company policy to address complaints, and your customers will appreciate your efforts.

1. Calmly listen to the customer. Do not respond to the customer’s emotion with emotion of your own. You need to be calm and an attentive listener. Do not interrupt the customer. Let the customer completely describe and explain the issue.

2. Make sure you understand the complaint by repeating it back to the customer in an understanding manner. Take notes if needed for future reference and for informing other company personnel who may be at fault or involved in the resolution of the complaint. For example, if a service was missed, the billing department may need to be involved in order to issue a credit to the customer.

3. Issue a sincere apology. Do not just say “I am sorry,” but rather “I am sorry that ...” The phrase “I am sorry” is overused and underappreciated in our language. Saying “I am sorry that your unit was not serviced because it was blocked” is more descriptive of the situation and underscores the previous point that you understand the problem. 

4. Thank the customer for bringing the issue forward and assure them you will do everything in your power to work together to resolve the issue. Do not be confrontational when attempting to resolve conflicts. Working together solves problems more quickly and efficiently. If the units are completely used and out of toilet paper prior to the scheduled service day, perhaps there are too many workers and not enough units. Discuss the numbers of workers on the site. Are there multiple shifts of workers? Are there more workers on this particular phase of the job? Does the workweek involve Saturday and Sunday schedules?

5. Be flexible, and offer several ideas the customer may find reasonable in resolving the issue. For example, could you manage usage by putting locks on several units to be used in the event all of the other units become full? Would moving the units closer to the street make them easier to service? Flexibility and creativity show the customer you are eager to resolve the issue.

6. Once you have created a solution, make sure the customer is completely aware of the solution. In the case of servicing crane units on the upper floors of a construction site, make sure the customer knows you will call when you are an hour away so that the crane operator can have the units on the ground and ready for you to service upon arrival. Ensure other members of your company are aware of this situation in case you are unavailable when this service is to be done.

7. Ensure your company is aware of the solution to the problem. If extra units or extra service is required, coordinate this with your company’s dispatch personnel. Billing personnel may also have to be notified.

8. Follow up. Check with the customer the next week to make sure the accommodations you have agreed to have been implemented. A call from a manager or supervisor will often go a long way to show the customer that the complaint was taken seriously and that the customer’s satisfaction is the highest priority.

9. Learn from the experience. Look for similar situations on other job sites. Be proactive in suggesting the location of units and the number of units based on the number of workers, and attempt to identify potential problems before they occur.

Complaints handled to the satisfaction of the customer can leave a lasting impression and strengthen the relationship with your customer. Unhappy customers who are turned around by your company’s response to a problem can become your strongest allies and source of referrals. Identifying and addressing potential problems before they occur will strengthen your reputation as the expert in your area. 


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