As small business owners, we always want happy, satisfied customers and clients. However, even if your small business prides itself on outstanding customer service, at some point there is a good chance you will have an unhappy customer. And nobody likes dealing with customer complaints! Sometimes it may be your (small business’s) fault, and sometimes it may really not be your fault. Sometimes it may even be your customer’s fault! Whose fault it is doesn’t really matter, though. What does matter is how you handle the unhappy customer.
A lot of small business owners tend to get very annoyed when customers start complaining, however, we think you should actually be HAPPY that the customer is complaining to you. Why, you may ask? Well, most unhappy customers don’t take the time to complain. According to the Technical Assistance Research Program (TARP), only about 4% of customers who experience problems take time to complain. However, that doesn’t mean that they leave quietly. Experts say, the average unhappy customer tells nine people. One in five tells more than 20 people. Chances are, they will turn to social media to express their unhappiness as well, possibly by posting a negative review on Yelp, tweeting about it, or posting it to Facebook. And unfortunately, negative experiences are twice as likely to influence other’s buying decisions as an account of a good experience.
So, we think that makes the case for handling an unhappy customer with the utmost of care! When handled well, you have an opportunity to turn an unhappy customer into a very loyal customer. Here’s how:
Listen and allow them to vent. Chances are, the customer will be angry and possibly even rude. Resist the natural urge to get defensive when faced with this situation – it will only make matters worse! Don’t interrupt, just let them vent, take a deep breath, and bite your tongue if needed.
Say “We’re sorry”. These three magic words can calm many people right away. The key is to be sincere – people will see right through a flimsy, insincere “Sorry”, which can even inflame the situation. You may even need to use this phrase a couple of times to defuse the situation.
Don’t make excuses. When customers are frustrated, the last thing they want to hear are excuses as to why the situation happened. And by all means, don’t ever say “It’s company policy”. Not only is that unhelpful to resolving the situation, it portrays a lack of empathy to your obviously upset customer.
Give your employees authority. To solve problems, that is. The quickest route to a solution is the quickest route to a happy customer, so you don’t want to make them jump through hoops, or wait to talk to you as the small business owner.
Don’t be cheap. It can be easy to get caught up in how much it might cost to appease an unhappy customer, either by replacing a product or providing additional service. However, the best way to look at this situation is to consider the lifetime value of a happy, loyal customer, versus a one-time transaction. Saving a few dollars but losing a customer (or even ruining your reputation) does not equate to a good pay-off.
Solve the problem. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, make sure you actually resolve the problem. Get to the root of the problem, make it better for the customer, and don’t forget to fix the systemic issue, if there is one. That’s an important step, so you don’t have more unhappy customers with the same issue in the future.
By handling customer complaints well, you can turn an unhappy customer into a loyal customer for life!