When Customers Complain

Have you ever experienced bad service and complained about it only to realize your complaints are falling on deaf ears? Some businesses feel they have enough demand for their products or services that they can ignore complainers. I will warn you this is a dangerous game to play. When a customer complains about something in your business, you really need to pay close attention to what they are saying. Remember, there could be 10 other customers who may have experienced similar dissatisfaction but for whatever reason don’t say anything to you. They just go somewhere else to buy whatever it is you are selling. You may have heard it be said that happy customers will tell two or three of their friends about you. But unhappy customers will tell 10! So be sure to listen with intensity when customers come to you with problems. Resolving the problem quickly could save you some serious issues in the future. We should all learn something from the recent Toyota episode. What seems to be a lack of attention to customer complaints and the lack of dealing with the issues quickly has caused Toyota a huge PR problem, not to mention the millions of dollars they will lose in lost customers. 

So what exactly should you do with a complaining customer? First, as mentioned above, you need to listen very carefully. Be sure you understand what the customer is complaining about. And be sure you believe them. Remember, perception is reality. If they perceive there is a problem, for the time being, you need to believe they are right. Secondly, apologize to them and recognize how frustrating it must be to be in their situation. You should empathize with them saying something like “I know how frustrated you must feel.”  Another technique is to repeat the problem back to them. Something like this, “Let me make sure I understand, you bought our service and you thought we would do Y  but we actually did  X, is that correct?” This reinforces the understanding that you have heard what they said and you have a grasp of what the problem is. Now it’s time for a solution. You may want to ask the customer what they think should be done. You may ask them “what can I do to make this right for you?” This gives them a sense of empowerment. At the same time you want to do what’s fair. If their demands are unreasonable you need to say so and hold your ground. But my experience is most will be reasonable with you. When you agree to a solution make it happen and make it happen now. Then once the solution has been delivered follow up with them and be sure they are satisfied. And be sure to always thank them for their business.

I know at times some customers can be totally unreasonable. I play by the three strike rule. First strike, I fix your problem. Second strike, I fix your problem but now I’m keeping a close eye on you. Third strike, your out. Assuming that I feel you are being totally off base (way too many baseball references here) I will fire you as a customer. You are now probably costing me more money than it’s worth. Of course I will do this in a very subtle way to avoid any bad PR but we will probably not be doing much business together in the future.

By dealing with complaints honestly, professionally and quickly you will not only get the opportunity to fix problems in your business but also the relationships with your customers will become even stronger. Sometimes those complaining become some of the most loyal customers you have. This gives them the opportunity to tell their friends what great service you provide. Look at these situations as opportunities to turn customer complaints into something constructive.