Why Cookie-Cutter Solutions Don’t Cut It

By Gordon Hecht, Serta Simmons Bedding

It doesn’t matter if your business is B2B, B2C, DTC, HR, NFL or XYZ.  At some point you’re sure to encounter someone that is unhappy with your product, service, policies or the thickness of the TP in the washroom.

Despite your best efforts, it seems as if you are giving away free ice cream sundaes and every customer is lactose intolerant. And whether you’re a retailer or manufacturer, the same issues seem to pop up on a consistent schedule.

Any of these sound familiar?

  • The merchandise did not arrive when needed.
  • The merchandise arrived less-than-perfect (a.k.a. damaged).
  • The appearance/performance of the merchandise was below my expectations.
  • Nobody offered to help me/I was not greeted.
  • Too many salespeople approached me.
  • My home/business was damaged during delivery.
  • I was inconvenienced due to … (go ahead, fill in the blank).

Sometimes there is an easily agreed-upon solution, and other times the complaints seem unresolvable.  Customers with difficult issues start out like regular people, just like you or me.  But somewhere along the line their expectations have not been met, and that, combined with external factors, creates that “in your face” unresolvable customer situation.

We are successful in our businesses because we are problem solvers by nature. In fact, you may be the problem-solving resource for your work, family and friends. They come to you for advice and solutions.  It’s all great, until we start to apply one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter solutions to situations that come our way.

You might find yourself faced with your own customer repeating the same issue you’ve heard ten times that month. The tendency is to tune out and try to slap a blanket fix on it.  And often, that cookie-cutter response means throwing money or other company treasures at it.

Good problem-solving skills are like the effective selling skills that made you and your business successful. Just as a great retail sales associate (RSA) knows what inventory, finance terms and delivery slots are available before the store even opens, a good problem solver will know what resources and people are available to resolve an issue.

Next, the greatest skill an RSA can have is active listening, which goes beyond hearing. It’s the ability to pick up clues and opportunities from what a customer saying. It’s the same for problem solvers. Actively listen, and often repeat what your customer is telling you to ensure you are really understanding what they are saying. You can also use repetition to soften the tone of the conversation. For example:

Customer: “Your store sells junk! That item you sold me has completely fallen apart!”

Problem Solver: “So what you’re telling me is that you are dissatisfied with the performance of your purchase.”

Great salespeople also ask great questions and work to paint a picture with their words. Successful problem solvers sleep better at night when they use a similar technique. Observe:

Problem Solver: “Can you tell me specifically where the product let you down?”

Customer: “Sure, when I looked at it this morning there were about 10 loose threads on the top and sides. It’s like all of the sewing is coming apart.”

Problem Solver: “I’m sorry to hear that. Are there any areas where the fabric or seams have separated?”

Customer: “No, not yet, but I am sure it will happen soon.”

When working on a selling floor, successful RSAs will have multiple, but limited, solutions to offer. For merchandise, the ideal number is two or three options. Once you get beyond that number, it becomes more difficult for a customer to make decisions. You probably can see that it’s the same for resolving issues. Rather than having a single solution, be ready to present multiple options (one at a time). It’s more than cutting cookies; you can offer pie, cake and/or ice cream! Thusly:

Problem Solver: “Loose threads are rare, but not unusual. Sometimes it comes from fabric rubbing against another fabric, like denim jeans on a damask cover or a new sheet set on a mattress. Most likely this won’t be an issue. Can you check on it in a couple of weeks and let me know if it gets worse?”

Customer: “I want something done about it now!”

Problem Solver: “I can send a service tech to your home. She can check it out, trim the loose threads and let us know if it will be an ongoing issue.”

Customer: “Can’t you just send me a new one?”

Problem Solver: “It seems like you really like the one you have and are just concerned about the loose threads. Since we do see loose threads occasionally, I’m worried that if we replace it, that temporary thread thing might show up again. Why not let us check it out? I am sure that will fix it. And best of all, you have a 10-year warranty against defects, so you’re covered.”

Customer: “OK, I’ll let you guys try to fix it, but know that I’ll be calling if this doesn’t work.”

An ideal sales presentation ends with the RSA thanking the customer for their business and trust, and it should end the same when resolving the customer’s issue. Thank them for being a customer and thank them for bringing the issue to your attention (rather than posting it all over Facebook and Google!)

Obviously, the best way to fix customers’ problems is to avoid them (the problems, not the customers) before they occur. In a perfect world that would happen routinely. In our world, we need to be prepared.

Start preparing today by meeting with your team to discuss your most common customer complaints.  See how they can be prevented, and also begin building a list of three to five solutions for each problem. Finally, give each staffer the authority to resolve the issue on the first encounter (phone call, email, text or face-to-face).

This way, the only cookies you’ll be cutting are sweet surprises.

Gordon Hecht is Senior Regional Manager/Strategic Retail Group at Serta Simmons Bedding and a regular contributor to YSN. You can reach him at ghecht@sertasimmons.com.