When customers are unhappy, respond quickly, communicate frequently, and keep calm.
Whatever a business sells or does, it’s probably not the only game in town. If customers are unhappy, they can easily take their trade elsewhere—and they very well might.
In one survey by the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois, researchers found 30% of unhappy customers will simply not return to the business. Twenty percent would verbally warn others not to patronize the business.
Those are high stakes. With so much on the line, business owners need a solid strategy for dealing with unhappy customers.
For Jon Byrum, president of employee scheduling software company Hello Scheduling, making good means digging deep. When a large customer complained about tweaks made to the software, Byrum invested more than $2,000 in development to undo the problem. "Now while we may lose money on this one specific customer, they've been a huge advocate for us, bringing in much more than $2,000 worth of new business," he says.
Just what does it take to satisfy an unhappy customer?
1. Respond quickly.
"In the ancient fable, it is the slow, steady tortoise who wins the race, but in customer service it is the fast response that wins the hearts. People like to know that someone is paying attention and the faster your response, the stronger the message that you are doing just that. Difficult customers especially are time-sensitive and an immediate response will go far to reduce their angst," says Mike Samson, co-founder of web design firm crowdSPRING.
2. Keep them in the loop.
Don’t just fix the problem quietly in the background. "If you keep customers aware of what steps are being taken to rectify issues, they will appreciate it. That doesn’t mean just emailing a customer once or twice. It means communicating regularly and personally," offers Lynn Daniel, president of The Daniel Group, a customer service consulting group in Charlotte.
"Do not try to talk over the customer or argue with them. Let the customer have their say, even if you know what they are going to say next, and even if they may not have all the information or be mistaken. As you listen, take the opportunity to build rapport with the customer," said Mike Effle, CEO of ecommerce solutions provider Vendio.
4. Keep calm.
"Lower your voice. If the customer gets louder, start speaking more slowly and in a lower tone. Your calm demeanor will reflect on them and will help them to settle down. As you approach the situation with a calm, clear mind, unaffected by the customer’s tone or volume, anger will generally dissipate," Effle says.
Customer dissatisfaction can be especially challenging if you really believe in your work, but at the same time, don’t want to make bad blood. "We never want to show a lack of faith or belief in the work we’ve done for a client. At the same time, we never want to blame the client for an issue they’re having with the work," says Nickolas Duarte of video production boutique company Crown Chimp Productions. "So instead of blaming ourselves, the client or the work itself, we try to approach it from a problem-solving point of view. Creative work is all about problem solving. We angle their issue as if it’s just part of the process, alleviating anxiety and tension." In short: Instead of us versus them, make this an "all in this together" situation.
Is the customer always right? Well, it doesn’t really matter anyway, so long as the customer is happy at the end of the day. All our experts caution against the instinct to win, to defend oneself and one’s work. Don’t bother. Listen thoughtfully, remedy where possible, and apologize when you’re wrong.
A final note: Don’t be afraid to cut someone loose. There are customers who will never be happy and you’ll spend far too much time and energy on them. When the situation seems hopeless, walk away. Your business will be all the stronger for it.