5 min read time
Customers today are far more demanding (at least, it often feels that way) and on top of that, they now have the means to publicly broadcast their grievances to a global audience, within seconds. This combination can be bad news for businesses, whose reputation could be on the line if complaints aren’t handled properly.
Unhappy customers are what you get when expectations aren’t being met. If something goes wrong and a customer’s experience with you is different to what they anticipated, then depending on the nature of the mishap, their emotions may get the better of them. Dealing with emotional people is never easy, but it’s not something you can avoid in business. Burying your head in the sand is the worst thing you can do when it comes to unhappy clients and it won’t do you any favours.
The truth is, every unhappy client presents a golden opportunity for you. If you can turn their complaint around, while upping your game and learning from your mistakes, then you could be creating one of your biggest (and most vocal) fans.
Your success in doing so, will hinge on how well you deal with the situation from the off.
7 key steps to dealing with an unhappy customer
1) Actively encourage feedback
Being pro-active about asking for customer feedback is one way to coax complaints out of customers that may otherwise never be said. For some people, complaining is as uncomfortable to do as it is to deal with. So, if it doesn’t annoy them too much, then they may simply leave quietly and go to another provider, without ever speaking to you about it. To avoid this happening, ask for feedback after a service has been delivered. The feedback may not only help you keep hold of more customers, but also spot problems you’re not currently aware of and areas that could be improved.
2) Move the complaint offline
When a complaint has been voiced publicly, the first and most important thing for you to do is to take it offline. This is especially true if it’s delivered over social media. Acknowledge the person in public, so others see how you are dealing with it and in what timeframe, then tell the complainant you will continue talking to them via private message, phone, or whatever means is most appropriate. Never be tempted to message back and get into a public argument. Losing your temper, trying to justify something, or shifting blame are all major no-nos. Always do your best to turn it into a private conversation.
2) Dealing with the emotion
Once you have moved it to a private setting, find out how emotional the client is about the whole issue. To deal with it effectively, you need to take this emotion out of the conversation. The first step is to acknowledge they are upset. This form of recognition isn’t saying you agree with them, it simply shows the other person that you have respect and empathy, and are willing to listen.
"I can hear you are quite upset" is one way to start. If the answer is "you bet I am" then you will notice an immediate drop in tone, as you’ve hit the spot and that was all that was needed to calm them down. However, if the answer is "What do you mean upset? I’m furious!" then again, acknowledge that. "I can understand. I would probably be furious too." The key to success here is simply to address what is going on, which will help to calm the conversation and take the steam out of it.
3) Establish the facts
Next you need to establish, step-by-step, what actually happened. Simply listen to the client and take notes. Nod at the right times if you’re face to face with them, or throw in some reassuring “a-ha’s” if you’re on the phone. Try not to interrupt or jump in with solutions right away, just actively listen to the whole story and keep asking questions until you get to the bottom of the problem. If you think you can deal with it right away then great, do so. If not, give the client a timeframe within which you’ll come back to them and make sure you stick to it.
During the conversation, stay focused on them and verbally verify the entire story. Repeat everything back and have them confirm that you understood correctly. This is important as it will ensure you’re both on the same page. Then make sure you get both sides of the story, by checking what went wrong from an internal perspective. Once you have established this, you can move on to finding a solution.
4) Apologise if it’s in order
If an apology is due, then give one and make sure you are sincere. Put your hands up if there was a mistake on your part and find a way to make it up to them, as well as rectifying what went wrong. For example, if important parts were missing from the delivery, then don’t just send them. Add something extra in as an apology, such as a voucher or even a box of chocolates. Judge what would be an appropriate token, based on who the client is, what your relationship is with them and the issue that has taken place.
5) Find a solution
This may be easy to do, or it could be very tricky. If it’s hard to solve the issue, then ask the client what they expect from you to remedy the situation. That doesn’t mean you must do it, but if it’s reasonable and possible then consider it. In certain circumstances, it will take longer to find an appropriate solution. If that’s the case, then make sure the client understands why and what the next steps are going to be.
Of course, it should go without saying that whatever promises you make, you must be able to keep! Only promise what you can deliver.
6) Follow up
Set a reminder to call the client and follow up, to make sure everything went well and they’re now happy. Unless you couldn’t solve the issue, in most cases you should get praise for your excellent customer service. Now is the time to take advantage of this! Ask them if they would allow you to use their comments as a testimonial. Most will happily say yes. Just avoid asking them to write anything themselves. Instead, prepare a draft statement and send it to them for their approval. Make the whole process quick and easy.
7) Use the feedback
Whatever problem occurred, take some time to note it down and think of steps that can be taken to stop it from happening again in the future. Unhappy clients often highlight ways you can improve your product and service. If it’s a more complex issue, then have your respective teams sit down together to figure out how to prevent similar issues.
The complaint could be very useful for your content marketing activity too. If it lends itself to it, then turn it into useful content, such as a case study, model of best practice, or point on your FAQs.
Plus – you can never do too much training
Training in customer service and complaints handling is something every employee will benefit from, even those not in direct contact with clients. What we’re talking about here is making improvements to basic communication skills and gaining confidence in conflict resolution techniques. Awkward situations and conversations can happen between colleagues, managers and employees, as much as they can with customers. By regularly working on the whole team’s skills, you may find you give the entire company a boost.
Remember, an unhappy customer is not necessarily a lost customer. Instead, see it as an opportunity to improve your service and create a brand ambassador. By following these seven steps, you’ll be well on your way to successful complaints handling.