No business wants to hear from disgruntled customers. More to the point, no business really wants their customers to be disgruntled. We’d rather that our customers were always satisfied with our products and services, and that they’d all become brand evangelists for our business.
Unfortunately, this idyllic paradise simply doesn’t exist. Try as we might, some customers become unhappy. When they do, they’re likely to complain, and loudly.
Rather than seeing this as a customer service nightmare, however, successful businesses recognize it as an opportunity. In fact, even the worst customer service experience can be turned on its head, and eventually see an uptick in revenue.
Here are some guiding principles to put in place when facing these scary customer service situations:
- Address the customer directly. Offering vague promises to your customer base after a specific customer service experience is almost useless, and rarely effective. Instead, focus your efforts on the customer who’s complaining. The old adage about squeaky wheels and grease is true; if you can hear that squeaky wheel, chances are plenty of existing and potential customers can, as well. Seek out the customer, and demonstrate that you really value them and their business.
- Truly listen to the customer’s concerns. It’s easy – especially when you’re running a small business – to get defensive when a customer complains. You believe in your product or service, otherwise you wouldn’t be in business. It seems ludicrous to you that someone would be unhappy. Still, you need to really pay attention and find out what’s bugging the customer. Practice active listening; feed back the customer’s concerns to them so that you can make sure you really are getting at the heart of the matter.
- Solve the customer’s problems at all costs. There are very few customer service problems that you truly can’t afford to fix. In many cases, it simply means a refund. You can do that; after all, if the dissatisfied customer costs you a single additional sale, you’ve already lost that much money. If it means going above and beyond the call of duty to make them happy by offering an upgraded product, do that instead. Your goal is to turn that unhappy customer into a brand advocate. It might cost you, but it will be worth it.
- Be willing to make changes to your product or service. Sometimes, a customer’s concern is truly legitimate. There might be a flaw in your product’s design that you hadn’t identified previously. There could be a problem in your service process that leads to errors. Whatever it is, be willing to make broad scope changes in order to improve your overall product or service. Chances are pretty good that if one customer is complaining, several other customers have had the same problem and been silent about it.
- Once the customer is happy, ask them to spread the word. Chances are pretty good that they’ve already told many people how unhappy they are with your business. You can’t change that. What you can do is ask them to recommend you to their friends and family. In many cases, this will spur them to go back and tell the rest of the story to those they previously complained to.
- Put your satisfied customer on display. Give your customer an opportunity to tell other potential customers how you handled the situation. Ask if you can post their story on your website. Not only will this make the customer feel more valued, it will demonstrate to other potential customers that you’re willing to go the extra mile to make sure your customers are satisfied. This is especially compelling in an age where customer service seems to come at a premium.
- Accept the fact that you simply can’t reach some people. No matter how hard you try – no matter how many free products, discounts, or polite phone calls you make – some customers aren’t going to be happy. They’ve made up their minds, even before they picked up the phone to call you or started writing that email. Know when it’s time to give up the cause. At some point, you’ll reach the place where not only are you not appealing to the customer, you’ve become annoying.
Customer service nightmares happen. Whether they become repeat occurrences or whether they turn into a source of revenue is all up to you. Handle customer complaints with caution, care, and compassion, and you’ll see your business soar.
About the Author
Greg Muender is President of Ticket Kick, a California company that helps drivers get red light tickets, speeding tickets, and other driving tickets dismissed by helping drivers through the trial by written declaration process. The company, which formally launched in 2010, has been providing similar services since 2006 and is the leading company in this industry and growing rapidly.