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Climb, Confess, Comply: What To Do When You Get Into Trouble With A Customer

Student pilots are taught early on in their training what to do if they get lost. The remedy is summed up by the three “C’s”-  CLIMB, CONFESS, COMPLY.  Climb up to a safer altitude, get on the radio and confess that you are lost, and then comply with the instructions given by the air traffic controller.

The point is to realize that you are in trouble, ask for help quickly, and then do what it takes to resolve the situation. 

We can learn from this aviation strategy here in the automobile business. New or inexperienced salespeople may at some point “paint themselves into a corner” with a customer by making a mistake and not knowing how to correct it or where to go for help. Salespeople need to know that the dealership has planned ahead for these situations.

Did you get into difficulty with a customer?  If the answer’s yes, you probably have: 

•     Promised something you can’t get done.

•     Promised something you were not authorized to do.

•     Lied to the customer.

•     Failed to deliver bad news to a customer (trade, finance, etc)

•     Come across a problem with vehicle or paperwork.

•     A Customer that’s unhappy with product or service.

•     Forgot an appointment or promise.

If this problem is not handled right away, the:

•     Customer gets angry.

•     Customer escalates situation into bigger problem.

•     Customer tells others about their bad experience.

•     Problem does not go away.

•     Problem will cost more to resolve than if done promptly.

Going back to the aerial advice, first you must CLIMB:

•     Prepare to “rise” above the situation!

•     Gather up all pertinent documents and information.

•     Get the manager involved promptly.


•      Explain situation to manager, holding back nothing.

•      Provide all details including when you last contacted the customer (or didn’t).

After confessing, it’s important to COMPLY:

•     Follow your manager’s instructions.

•     Contact the customer and resolve the issue as instructed

•     Get it done promptly!

Follow up to ensure satisfaction.  Mangers also perform an important role in helping a sales associate find his or her way back to a happy customer.

Managers must:

•     Realize that the first goal is to satisfy the customer, not punish the salesperson.

•     Have a process in place and stick to it.

•     Communicate to salespeople the need to seek help with problems.

•     Keep the door “open” to communication.

•     Realize that even experienced salespeople can run into difficult situations.

•     Follow-up with salesperson to review lessons learned from the event.

Managers must first get this process in place, communicate it to salespeople and make sure they learn from (and don’t repeat) their mistakes.

Salespeople, remember to make your customers happy, so you don’t lose sales!  If you have to climb, confess and comply to keep them happy, so be it.

Vol 5, Issue 8


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