Every time a customer complains, they are giving the business in question a chance to maintain customer loyalty. Complaints are brought about by dissatisfaction in an otherwise fine product or service; they are pleas from the customer to the business – pleas to correct a situation gone wrong. If the situation isn’t rectified, the customer will most likely take their business elsewhere and you lose them forever.
Unhappy customers are not good for any company, and it only takes one to ruin your day at work, and only one to stir an upheaval against your business.
That being said, ignoring grievances is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. If you see grumbles as a chance to keep people as customers and improve your business, you’ll view them in a positive light and understand that complaints are necessary for your business’ health.
What to do when a customer complains?
First off, let me tell you a story.
Earlier this month, the ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s gave 16 customers a Willy Wonka-esque tour around their factory. This was the first (and probably the last) time the manufacturer of frozen confections invited customers to their facility, but it wasn’t because they won golden tickets, it’s because they were at one point dissatisfied with the ice cream and emailed Ben & Jerry’s to complain.
One of the customers, Leslie Gerhat, was disappointed when the pistachios of her flavored ice cream were soggy and fell apart in her mouth. After emailing the company, Gerhat received a coupon in the mail for free ice cream some weeks later, but it wasn’t until seven months later when she received a greater surprise – she was invited to take a tour of Ben & Jerry’s factory in Vermont.
The experience allowed Gerhat and the rest of the factory guests to witness firsthand how their favorite treats were manufactured as well as suggest how the product could be improved. Gerhat also learned that the reason the pistachios were soggy was that the supplier had roasted them too long.
According to Ben & Jerry’s spokesperson Kelly Mohr, the tour was an attempt to go the extra mile to resolve customer complaints. The ice cream company doesn’t want customers to feel their grumblings are unheard and the positive experience may result in future tours.
So, back to the question, what do you do when a customer complains? And no, you don’t have to treat your customers or clients to a free tour around the office. What’s important is resolving the issue promptly because avoidance will make things worse. Here are 9 steps to resolving customer concerns. These rules can be applied whether you’re responding in writing, over the phone or face-to-face.
1. Approach the customer the moment you learn about their gripes. Promptness is essential because: (1) the more delayed your response, the angrier they will get, and (2) a public complaint, such as one written on Facebook and other online platforms, will fuel rants from other unhappy customers. Sometimes, customers respond positively if you answer quickly with a sense of urgency regardless of the solution you give.
2. Don’t talk, just listen. They need to tell their story and feel like you are listening. Don’t interrupt them.
3. Thank them. Thank the customer for informing you about the problem. You can’t resolve something you’re not aware of or making the wrong assumptions about.
4. Accept the problem with humility. There’s no need and no use to pretend that you and your product/service are perfect, and being humble about the situation is the best way to provide a solution that will pacify the customer.
5. Don’t argue. Talking to irate customers and even reading negative feedback is never fun, but remember you have to be professional. There’s no need to get into an argument and this isn’t about who’s right; it’s about minimizing damage and retaining customer loyalty.
6. Apologize. Don’t just apologize, but sincerely apologize. This not the time to scold or preach the customer; reprimanding them will only alienate them.
7. Look for the best solution. Analyze what the customer wants or seek a solution that will appease them. Or, ask them. Sometimes, customers want something less than you initially thought you’d have to provide, especially if your apologies sound sincere.
8. Reach an agreement. Come to an agreement that will satisfy them, or at the very least, provide options that will best solve their issues. You’ll fail to hit the target if you don’t provide what they want, even if you have the best intentions.
9. Follow up. Following up will ensure that the customer is really satisfied. Ben & Jerry’s decision to invite once-unhappy customers to the factory was a very good way to follow up.
An additional tip: don’t overcompensate. While you want to have the customers’ best interest at heart, you want to be fair. Otherwise, the customer will jump at the opportunity and ask for too much, like an inappropriate freebie or a free meal when a free dessert would be enough.
Some customers complain the passive-aggressive way and rant about you on their blogs and social networks. And there are quite grumbles as much as there are loud complainers. Monitor the discussion online by having your customer service or social media department check Twitter, Yelp, Facebook, etc. for customer grievances, and then respond politely. Direct communication will show the public that you’re listening.
Moreover, these problems will only happen again and again if you don’t improve your products and services. This could mean retraining employees if their customer service skills need improvement or changing your policy. Don’t think of it as unnecessary work because it will only improve your business and enhance loyalty. Look at every complaint and figure out how you can prevent similar situations from arising.
Problems can arise anytime, but when you acknowledge customer complaints and go the extra mile to resolve their concerns, you will be remembered and can turn that displeased customer into a happy one.