What Your Unhappy Customers Really Want From You
By Cara Sutra
I doubt there’s any business out there that has never experienced unhappy customers at one point or another. As genuine and admirable as your company values may be, unhappy customers are part and parcel of being in business. How the variety of difficult situations that may arise are handled can mean the difference between your business suffering a viral flaming and becoming known as a company which goes the extra mile to resolve problems fast, efficiently and with sincere compassion.
Say you’re sorry – and mean it.
You need to very clearly accept responsibility without excusing any mistakes made. Say you’re sorry and really mean it. Even if you feel the customer is in the wrong, something has happened which has made them upset and that’s something to apologise for. Don’t ever follow it up with excuse or defence, such as saying, “sorry, BUT…”. It will be seen as your company justifying and excusing behaviours and actions and will just serve to exacerbate the customer’s frustration and anger.
I don’t think there’s many things worse when it comes to raising a complaint against a company then hearing a pretty aggressive defensive response of, “well sorry BUT it wasn’t our fault/it wasn’t like that/actually you’re wrong/it’s not my department” and suchlike.
It’s amazing just how much anger and tension can be diffused with a simple and genuine apology.
Respond calmly and carefully.
It’s so easy to react badly in the heat of the moment and when faced with blunt and seemingly harsh criticism, especially on social media. I’m speaking from sad experience here.
Quite aside from wanting to seem fair and level-headed to your customer and not blurting out something you’ll later regret, remember that everything you say on social media (especially on Twitter) can be seen by all followers. Even if you’re replying to a tweet your response isn’t totally hidden; when I view a business’ Twitter account I know I personally look at tweets with replies to see how they respond to people. These aren’t just followers who are able to see your updates and replies, they are current and potential customers. Think carefully before you respond.
It would be a mistake to think you can get away with deleting tweets or statuses after you’ve posted them. For a start, it’s not good business practice or customer service to try and ‘get away’ with angry responses to customers in any case, but there’s also the fact that whatever you put on the internet has a way of sticking around. That’s what screenshots are for, as many businesses who have been in the centre of a public debacle can testify.
It’s not just public updates which can be captured through screenshot either. Do you really believe your negative, angry and inflammatory responses on direct message, private message or email will remain private between you and the recipient? These are easily screenshotted or forwarded, copy/pasted or in some way shared with their contacts or on social media – or to form a compensatory case against your company. Emails are also admissible as evidence in a court of law (in the UK and EU at least).
Talking of private messages as a response to complaints: if a customer contacts you publicly then respond publicly. At least to start with, until such time that you can move to a more private arena under mutual agreement. Don’t attempt to hide your mistakes away by going straight to DM, PM or email. This looks incredibly shifty to the complainant and also to others looking at the conversation – as if you’re trying to hide away your errors. This has the knock-on effect of making the complaint look less important in your eyes than it is to the customer. If someone has raised a complaint with your business publicly, it’s often because their frustration level has reached a point where they don’t just want you to hear their complaint, they want the world to know about it. Side-lining them to a private method of communication immediately won’t diffuse the flames of that frustration, it will fan them. Say sorry, accept and clearly take responsibility, then see what you can do to put the situation right.
There’s an important rule in business: under-promise and over-deliver. Don’t get it the wrong way round and over promise then under deliver. It makes your business look even worse. Letting people down on promises you make when you’re caught up in the excitement of the moment or simply trying to end a difficult situation quickly can lead to even deeper frustrations and escalate those complaints to epic proportions.
Remember that it’s business, not personal.
Complaints from customers are against the company or business, not you personally. It’s important to keep this in mind as you’re replying to complaints – you should be responding as a company representative not as a person being criticised who is then trying to defend themselves. Avoid taking things personally, making personal comments, giving your personal opinion (if it’s not in line with company policy) or responding like for like with personal attacks. In fact, don’t attack or get aggressive at all. That’s not to say you shouldn’t listen at length to the complainant and sympathise with the person with genuine and human emotion and care.
Do your best to put it right straight away.
All your efforts following the steps above will have been for nothing if you don’t then take steps to correct the error raised by the customer. If it’s something which can be done right away, do it there and then. Don’t put it on your to-do list or put it off until tomorrow. People want to know that they’ve not only been heard but that a business has taken them seriously and are putting things as right as they can be as soon as physically possible.
If it’s not possible to correct the situation right away for whatever reason, clearly and calmly explain to the customer what you’re going to do to make it right, why there’s a time delay on this and reassure them about when those things will actually be done. Then for goodness’ sake, make sure you live up to those promises word for word.
If the customer is complaining about something that you can’t change, then follow the steps laid out above – say sorry, and mean it, because you are sorry that they’re upset. Calmly explain that what they’re upset about isn’t something that you (as business) can do anything about, and explain why that is. If there’s anything alternative that you can do to lessen their upset and frustrations, offer that instead. At no point get stressed or angry back at the customer.
If the customer is complaining about something that hasn’t happened the way they think or doesn’t reflect the facts, remember that you still need to be sensitive. Just because it’s not happened like they say or as they think it doesn’t change the fact that they’re very upset – and quite possibly in a very public and vocal way which can still have a negative impact on your business.
Responding with the equivalent of a shrug, kiss-off or passing the buck will see unhappy customers’ complaints spiral into an epic catastrophe. Say you’re sorry they’re upset about [whatever the issue seems to be] then once they’re a little calmer explain what seems to have happened from your point of view (using the facts available to you). At all times stay calm, friendly and approachable in your communication. It’s likely that an upset person will feel the embarrassment of being wrong even more strongly than if they had the right end of the stick in the first place, so kid gloves are definitely needed here. This is no time for gloating, one-upmanship or public humiliation.
Turning unhappy customers into strong business relationships
Remember that other people are watching and reading your responses, and every communication is an opportunity to show how your business deals with all situations, no matter how sensitive or difficult. Complaints are an opportunity to show that your company cares about and values every person, no matter how they approach you. In fact, some of the strongest business/customer relationships I have (as a customer of them myself) is when there’s been some issue or problem in the past, and I’ve complained about it.
Companies can definitely turn things around for unhappy customers and use complaints as a way to show why their business is ahead of the game.
Does your business respond to unhappy customers appropriately and deal with complaints in a calm, professional and understanding manner?
If you have experience as one of these unhappy customers: do you have any experiences to share of ways in which businesses have either been outstanding in their resolution of the situation – or an example of an epic fail?
I look forward to your comments below.
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