When a small business receives a customer complaint it has two basic choices: Treat the complaining customer like a pain in the neck, or use the complaint as an opportunity to improve.
Business owners who are adept at handling and learning from complaints know all too well that one complaining customer might represent many others with the same problem who did not speak up. They’re the ones who tell others, complain about you online and take their business elsewhere. Here are some ways to deftly handle customer complaints, suggested by Ron Kaufman, author of “Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers.”
• Acknowledge what’s important to the customer. Even if you think the customer’s complaint is unfair, there is something they value that your business didn’t deliver on. Embrace that value. “What the customer wants is to feel right,” said Kaufman. “When you agree with their value dimension, you’re telling them they are right to value this specific thing.” For example, if a customer says your service was slow, then that customer values speed. You might then acknowledge that they deserve quick, efficient service.
• Apologize once, upfront. Every service provider knows that the customer is not always right. But the customer is always the customer. You don’t have to admit you were wrong, but you should apologize for the inconvenience. When you do that, you’re showing understanding and empathy.
• Offer helpful information. Part of hearing the customer out is answering any questions they have about the specific situation. Provide additional, useful information as much as you can. If they ask a question that you don’t know the answer to, tell them you’ll find out. And then actually follow through. These are additional opportunities for you to say through your actions that you value their business.
• Recover. Show the customer you care about them, even if you feel your business did everything right. Businesses worry that they’ll get taken advantage of if they offer vouchers, discounts, or freebies as part of their service recovery. But in reality that rarely happens. “Offer the customer something and then explain that you’re doing so as a gesture of goodwill or a token of your appreciation,” said Kaufman. Businesses do this because they know that a successfully recovered customer can become their most loyal advocate. •
Daniel Kehrer can be reached at email@example.com.