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Dealing with customer complaints – the dos and don’ts

Although, like every small business owner, you will do your best to keep customers happy, the fact that you will unfortunately have to deal with a disgruntled patron every now and then, is virtually unavoidable. But, even when someone is less than happy with the service or product that your business has provided – all hope is not lost. Often, there is still a chance that you can appease the unhappy customer, save your business’s reputation, and potentially even win back that person as a future customer.

However, handling customer complaints in the right way is often easier said than done, so here are some of the most important dos and don’ts of dealing with an unhappy customer:

The dos

  • Stay calm No matter how rude or even aggressive a complaining customer may become, it’s vital that you keep your cool, and remain polite at all times. If both of you end up losing your tempers, the results could be disastrous, and it’s unlikely that an amicable resolution will be reached. Try to remember that the customer’s frustration is not directed at you personally, and that you should be able to diffuse their aggression by staying calm, accepting responsibility, and trying your best to understand their situation sympathetically.

  • Know how to apologise When a customer expresses their discontent to you, there’s a good chance that one of the first thing’s you’ll do is apologise. While it may sound simple enough, this apology is incredibly important, as it can set the tone for the rest of the conversation, and ultimately affect the outcome. If the customer doesn’t feel that you are genuinely sympathetic towards their situation, then winning them over is going to be all the more difficult. If, however, your apology is heartfelt and honest, then the customer is more likely to feel that you’re on their side, and come to an agreement with you.

  • Offer a solution The customer is complaining to you because they want you to resolve their problem. While it’s important to sympathise with them and make sure they know that you understand their situation, you do also have to offer something in the way of a solution or some kind of remuneration. For instance, offering them a partial refund, or a discount next time they visit will make them feel like they have not come away empty handed, and that you have made up for their initial discontent.

  • Follow up This is particularly important if you receive a complaint online, but can also be implemented in an offline scenario. After you have reached an agreement with the unhappy customer and gone your separate ways – make sure you re-contact them in the near future to ensure your solution was satisfactory. If online, this could be something as simple as an email or message through social platform, or it could be a phone call. If you see them in your business again, and happen to remember them, you can even bring up the issue face-to-face. This follow up is important as it reinforces to the customer that you are a responsible and caring business that values your custom. They may be more likely to write the initial matter off as a simple mistake.

The don’ts

  • Break promises Sometimes, it’s all too easy to make promises to an upset customer to try and regain their faith. While this is often an effective way of starting to win back a customer’s loyalty, it can also have the opposite effect, if you aren’t able to follow through with your pledges. Only make promises and offers that you are willing to keep, otherwise you risk damaging the relationship between your business and that customer even more.

  • Argue Even if you disagree with what your customer is saying, arguing against them only stands to exacerbate the situation. This doesn’t mean that you have to pander to their every whim or let the customer take advantage, but you should always remember to suggest alternatives tactfully, rather than directly confront.

  • Interrupt Even if you think you know where the conversation is going, or even if the custom is repeating something they’ve already said – try not to interrupt. Once again, making the customer feel as if you are listening and sympathising with their situation is key to reaching an amicable agreement, and interrupting their speech is likely to have the opposite effect.

While this may seem like a lot to remember at the same time as trying to find a solution for a disgruntled customer’s problem, the most important thing to bear in mind is being genuine. It doesn’t matter how much you let the customer rant, or how many solutions you offer them – if they think they are not being taken seriously and their complaint handled with honest concern, chances are they won’t feel their problem has been solved.

The last thing you want is for the customer to leave your business unhappy, as not only does this drastically reduce the chances of them returning, but there’s also the risk that they may share their bad experience with other consumers, again diminishing your pool of potential customers. Following the tips above, and acting with politeness and genuine concern can help you to resolve complaints effectively, and turn disgruntled customers into happy ones.