If you’re a business owner, you’ve probably had dealings with customers who were less than happy or satisfied with your product or service. Customers who feel they’ve been treated unfairly, paid too much or are not happy with the end-result of your product, meal or service, may lose their temper and their control of proper decorum. Very quickly their over-action can incite your own anger, especially when as a business owner you care deeply about providing the best service and the highest quality product or food item.
How do you diffuse the situation before it becomes irreparable? How can you find a resolution that you both can be content with? And how do you turn an irate customer into a happy and loyal customer? And if not resolved, how can your manage possible damage to your reputation?
Five Steps in Handing Unhappy Customers
1. Stay Calm: When money is exchanged, people become very sensitive to wanting the best service and the best product money can buy. And sometimes circumstances beyond a business owner’s control can result in late delivery, order errors or incomplete services. By staying calm, the owner has an opportunity to share his story and feelings without increasing his own agitation.
2. Listen, Listen and Listen some more. Often a customer just wants to be heard, they want to know you care enough to hear him/her out. So give them the uninterrupted time to vent – often they may just feel better once they got it off their chest and they’ll respect you for taking the time to listen. Try to listen without focusing on the angry tone, the harsh words or the sometimes exaggerated claims. Just sift out the real problem from the ranting.
Try not to take it personal. You’re going to take it personal. This is the hardest part, especially when your business is often an extension of yourself. I work closely with business owners on a daily business, and their company has taken blood, sweat and tears to build so the product/service they provide is the heart and soul of their professional life. When things don’t go as planned, you are probably just as or more so angry as your customer, especially when its not your fault. But even if it is, own it and fix it. And don’t feel terrible if you do take it personal because it means you care about doing your best. Though its just as important to take those feelings to focus on resolution, rather than being insulted.
4. Explain but do not excuse the error. After the customer has finished his complaint, it may be important to take time to research what happened and also take time to calm down and process the situation. But don’t let the situation fester because that time can result in damaging your brand as the irate customer shares the stories with others. As soon as you figure out what went wrong, explain to the customer the source of the problem but not in a way that excuses or pardons you or your staff from blame. Admit the error, tell them you sympathize and understand their feelings, explain why it happened and then most importantly apologize. Often, this step will put the whole matter to rest.
5. Do whatever you can to resolve it! Even if it wasn’t your fault, offer a resolution. Fix the faulty product or service at your own cost so it meets the expectations of your original estimate. If the customer is asking for additional services beyond what was agreed on, maybe you could meet in the middle to resolve the situation. If there is no way to fix the problem without a time machine, then offer a discount, a free dessert, or a valuable coupon towards future purchases. When the customer sees your effort to make it right, they will often be more than pleased to return.
Irate Customers Venting Online
Unfortunately sometimes you don’t learn about the customer’s bad experience until they blasted a bad review publicly (on social media, online review sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor, or Urbanspoon). You can apply the above principals but instead on a public forum. Its imperative you respond so that you can reduce the damage of other potential customers as well. Here’s a full discussion of how to respond to bad reviews online.
Benefits of Resolution
- Prevent Bad Reviews: If you handle the matter quickly and effectively, the customer is less likely to vent about their bad experience but instead how you handled their concerns promptly. Remember: “News of bad customer service reaches more than twice as many ears as praise for a good service experience.“*
- Earn a Loyal Customer: When a customer sees that you care, that you’re a true professional and that you respect them, they will return again and again. “On average, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase.“*
- The Feeling of Satisfaction: Knowing you handled the situation with kindness and respect, you will feel better too as well as reduce your stress levels. So handle quickly, within 24 hours, so everyone involved can put the matter behind them.
* White House Office of Consumer Affairs