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Closing the loop with consistency:The 5 As

Updated: May 3, 2020

Not everyone is good at closing the loop with customers, particularly with customers that may have raised negative issues in their customer feedback. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to sit and listen to a customer vent without going on the defensive and trying to justify one’s company’s actions.

Some people responsible for closing the loop also have trouble figuring out how to start the conversation. Starting by saying “You gave me a 2 in the survey and my boss wants me to speak to you” is not necessarily the most constructive way to start a conversation with a customer…a conversation that is meant to be a service recovery action, getting a customer back on board.

The 5 As below are intended to give staff responsible for closing the loop a framework with which to achieve both consistency and the best possible service recovery results from the conversation with the customer.

Closing the loop with the customer is important for any kind of feedback system. Customers like to know that they are being heard and their issues are being taken seriously. Consistently circling back with customers, discussing their issues, showing actions that are being taken as a result will strengthen the bond with the customer and increase loyalty. You will probably also find the survey response rate climb as word spreads that it is not just a window dressing exercise and that your company truly cares about what customers think!

  THE 5 As

 Acknowledge: Always begin by acknowledging the issue and the customer raising the issue. Whether or not you think a customer issue has merit, you have to start by granting the legitimacy of the customer’s point of view. Empathy is a very powerful cure-all, but it must be displayed freely and without reservation on your part. 

 Apologize: There’s no substitute for simply saying “we’re sorry.” No ifs, ands, or buts--just plain old “sorry for this.” As the customer tells you what’s wrong from his or her perspective, apologize early and often. With feeling. (See note below)

 Amplify: Ask for additional information about the issue. The people within company responsible for resolving issues will need as much information as possible. As the customer vents to you, keep acknowledging his/her problem and apologizing for the inconvenience or for whatever other issues the customer incurred as a result. Keep asking if there is anything more--any further dissatisfaction that has not yet been voiced. Get it all out.

 Ask: Once the problem has been fully exposed--when the customer says there isn’t anything more to add -- you should ask the single most important question: What does the customer think would be a fair and satisfactory resolution? How can your company remedy the situation?

 Act: Then, if it’s at all possible, do what the customer has just told you would be fair but at least ensure that the issue is submitted promptly to whomever is responsible for resolving such issues within your company, and most importantly, that the customer receives an answer as soon as possible. Note: Some people may feel uncomfortable apologizing as they perceive this as accepting liability for any issues. There are many things that one can apologize for without accepting liability, e.g. not meeting the customer’s expectations (we are in business to meet them, right?), for any inconvenience or disappointment.

COVID-19 addendum

In these times of the COVID-19 crisis, following up with customers becomes even more important (if that was possible!). Follow-up conversations are an excellent opportunity to find out from customers how COVID-19 has affected their business and the way that they plan to do business in the future. Explore how this wil affect the business relationship with your company and ways that you can adapt in order to make their transition easier. Customers will appreciate this proactive attitude, as you display your customer-first culture with your customers' interests at heart.

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