Dealing with customers who are dissatisfied comes with the territory when you own your own home-based or other small business, business opportunity or franchise. Let’s face it, even the best of us mess up every once in a while. The trick is to take steps to mitigate any serious damage as best you can and to do it sooner rather than later. Putting off the inevitable or ignoring a problem altogether is a recipe for even greater troubles down the road, both in terms of your reputation as well as your bottom line.
Customers who are unhappy with your work or product will exhibit a range of emotions, everything from mild and reasonably stated discontent to downright hostility. So you’ve got to be ready for anything.
But regardless of how well they do or don’t handle the disappointment they feel on their end, your response in virtually any situation can and should remain consistent. Just follow the seven ‘A’s for managing an unhappy customer and you’ll increase the likelihood that you and your relationship will emerge from even the most heated exchange relatively unscathed.
And here they are:
1. Acknowledge their feelings—The key to managing any relationship successfully is validation. Everyone wants and needs to know that their feelings are appreciated. This is not a time to judge whether someone’s emotions are right or wrong. Validation is not about judgment. It’s about letting someone know it’s okay to feel what they’re feeling and that you hear them. So the first step you can take to calm someone down is to recognize that they are upset and let them know that you don’t take that lightly. In fact, it’s going to be your mission to address their concerns.
2. Air their grievances—Once you’ve acknowledged that there is a problem, invite your customer to clear the air by getting everything they are thinking and feeling out of their system. Don’t rush them. Be patient, and let them finish. Try to stay calm no matter what is said. Remember, very nice people are capable of saying some pretty nasty things when they are upset.
3. Apologize…no matter what—Whether you feel that your customer is right or wrong with regard to the issue at hand is not what matters most. In the world of business, the customer is always right. So make sure you apologize for any mistakes that were made. If you don’t believe a specific error was made on your part or that of your company, then if nothing else, apologize for any inconvenience caused by the current situation.
4. Assure them their concerns will be addressed—Now is the time to reinforce to your customer the fact that you will do whatever it takes to ensure the situation is rectified to their satisfaction. Once you’ve done that, if the person is still too upset to talk rationally, it is perfectly okay to suggest another time to talk when everyone is calmer and real progress on next steps can be made. If your customer is calmed down at this point and willing to work with you, now is the time to discuss viable solutions. This should not be a one-sided discussion, but rather an exchange of ideas as to what is expected on their end and what can be provided on yours. It’s important to be specific. Start with solutions that will relieve the most pressing challenges created by the situation first. Then you can talk about any long-term challenges that need to be addressed as needed.
5. Agree on a plan to remedy things—Once you and your customer are clear on the challenges you both are facing, you must agree on a schedule for solution implementation and put it in writing. Both parties should be absolutely clear on what is being promised and when, so writing it all down is important.
6. Act to implement the plan of correction—Now it’s your turn to make good on the solutions that everyone involved agrees will fix the problem. Act purposefully and in accordance with set deadlines.
7. Accomplish what was promised—Once you’ve completed the necessary tasks and your solution to the problem has been fully implemented, check in with your customer to make sure they are satisfied with the result. Thank them for the opportunity to make things right, and assure them that you will do your best to make certain it does not happen again.
Lastly, congratulate yourself on a job well done. Nothing speaks louder about an individual or a company than his or her or its basic integrity, and nothing conveys integrity more than how we handle ourselves, especially when things go wrong. In this day and age, when the competition is fiercer than ever before, make no mistake… Integrity is everything.