Complaining Customers Can Be Great for Business
Every business needs happy customers and clients to be successful. From repeat business to word of mouth, satisfied customers sustain your business and help it to grow.
But not every customer or client is going to be happy all the time.
Your quest, should you choose to accept it, is to view each complaint you receive as an opportunity to build your business and improve your customer relationships. Let’s take a look at how you can transform your angry customers into your biggest fans and become their hero.
What Makes a Customer Unhappy?
Most of the time when someone gets upset, it’s because they believe they have completed their part of the transaction—purchased a product or service—and they have certain expectations for what they will receive in return. When the product is faulty, instructions are unclear, or their experience is somehow disappointing, your customer will become frustrated.
As a result, many people will complain, often with foul language, raised voices, or by posting angry comments on social media.
When a customer lashes out, it’s important not to take it personally. Very rarely is a customer angry at a specific individual. They typically just find the first person upon whom they can take out their frustrations. It could be you, as the owner of a small business, but it could also be a member of your support staff, a salesperson, or someone you’ve hired to help review comments on Twitter or Facebook.
The critical takeaway here is understanding what happened and why the customer is unhappy. Is it possible to identify where your company went wrong? Was there a miscommunication that set up false expectations, or did the customer receive a faulty product?
While there are people who enjoy complaining and will find fault in even the best service, the vast majority are reasonable and just want a resolution to their issue.
How to Handle Dissatisfied Customers
As noted, there’s almost always a concrete reason why someone is unhappy with your business, and usually, there’s a corresponding solution. But first, you have to figure out what’s happening. Here are some tips for pushing through the wall of anger to get to the truth.
- Always be genuine in your interactions. Customers can tell if you’re using canned phrases or just telling them what you think they want to hear.
- Be patient and remain calm. We’re all human and it can be stressful dealing with an irate customer. Even so, it’s essential that you keep your cool.
- Acknowledge concerns and show you’re listening. Sometimes it’s helpful to describe the issue back to the customer first, making sure you understand the problem.
- Ask how you can make it better. Often the solution is even easier than you might think—they may just want more information or a sympathetic ear.
- Offer to provide a refund, replacement, or repair. If you can’t give the product or service away, can you offer a partial refund or perhaps extra time to get things right?
Avoid the Angry Mob on Social Media
Picture this scenario: You’re checking your Twitter feed and find someone complaining about the service you’ve offered them. They’re using extreme language as they tell people never to use your business. They want everyone to believe you’re horrible and do terrible work.
When you see it, you think, “How dare they say those terrible things about us?” You take pride in the services and products you offer and can’t believe anyone would say the things they’re saying. You want to set the record straight, so you begin to respond and give them a piece of your mind.
Hold on! Responding in anger is a terrible idea, but believe it or not, this is an area where some companies stumble.
When someone complains in such a public venue, there are a lot of eyes on the interaction. Recognize from the start that this is why they do it—they’re putting pressure on the company to respond and do whatever’s necessary to resolve things.
The good news is that by handling these interactions properly, you can not only resolve the issue but turn what might have been an ugly exchange into something valuable for your business.
The key to resolving these matters is to post a public comment acknowledging the customer’s concern, and then take the conversation to a private room, an email exchange, a phone call, or a support ticket. By recognizing that there’s an issue and working quickly to resolve it, you can show the customer that you care, without having to air your dirty laundry in public.
Does this mean you can’t try to resolve the issue right there on social media? Not at all. In fact, sometimes it’s essential, especially if you manage a support forum or if a number of people have already responded to the initial comment saying “me too.” But keep in mind that if you respond in public, you’ll need to watch your step to ensure it all remains civil and positive. Remain patient and never turn the dialogue into an argument, even if you believe the customer is mistaken in some way. An abundance of friendliness can sometimes calm down the angriest customer.
Be the Customer’s Knight in Shining Armor
When you run a business, you can’t afford to turn away customers. Your goal, therefore, should always be to convert dissatisfaction into loyalty.
This is the holy grail of customer interaction.
But how do you do it?
First, as we discussed above, it’s important to take the time to communicate and listen. Companies known for their excellent customer service get that reputation because they invest in getting to know their customers’ needs.
The best companies try to be proactive and exceed customer expectations from the beginning. When problems arise, however, they resolve issues quickly, without a lot of drama, and go the extra mile to make sure the customer is happy.
That might mean ‘eating’ the cost of a single product if there’s a strong likelihood that the customer will return. For example, an airline can refund the cost of a flight if a customer receives poor treatment. A car dealer can throw in window tinting or other extras. A restaurant can offer to “comp” the meal. And a web designer could cover the cost of hosting and related fees for a year.
- Respond as quickly as possible. As customer experience expert Micah Solomon noted in his profile of Zappos (a company known for top-notch support), “every hour seems like a day in Internet time; after just a couple hours not hearing from you, customers start to assume that a company’s never getting back to them.” Even if you can’t resolve the issue right away, try to acknowledge all complaints in a timely fashion so the customer knows that you’re paying attention.
- Empower your employees. If you have people helping with social media or support, allow them to “go off script” and make decisions that will benefit the customer. Perhaps they’re allowed to offer a free upgrade or a refund even after the 30-day window.
- Be bold. Don’t be afraid to allow your personality to shine through. This allows customers to make a connection. For example, this humorous exchange between a customer and Netflix technical support has since gone viral.
- Do the unexpected. To build customer loyalty, a number of companies send swag to premium customers. But some companies, such as Zappos.com, have sent flowers to customers after learning of a death in the family or other difficult emotional situation.
- Always strive to find a solution. Sometimes you lose in the short run. However, it’s important to remember that if you can make the customer happy, they might stick around for the lifetime of your business—and tell their friends.
- Follow up with them via email. If the problem was technical, make sure things are working again. If you replaced something, make sure they received the new item. Regardless of the issue, thank them for their time and send them a coupon for their next purchase. (Keep in mind that surveys don’t count in this case–they help you, not the customer.)
As you can see, there are lots of different ways to approach a customer complaint. Most are inexpensive (or free) and can totally transform your relationship with that customer.
How Complaints Can Make Your Business Better
Every time a customer or client complains to you or in a public forum, they’re doing you a favor. If you think about it, most people never bother to reach out to companies to let them know they’re unhappy—they just tell their friends. So when one of these dissatisfied customers take the time to contact you, you should reciprocate by giving them your full attention.
After all, by highlighting a pain point in your sales funnel, a flawed product design, poor communication, or whatever their issue is, your customers are giving you feedback you can use to improve your business.
For example, someone who designs mobile apps can use complaints to alert them to unexpected bugs in the software, or a connected application that’s gone offline. Because of their numbers and heavy use, often customers will discover these issues before the developer themselves. Or someone who sells t-shirts can use complaints about quality issues to bring their attention to problems with the manufacturer.
Meanwhile, negative feedback to a small business owner might highlight areas of weakness in communication or technology. Even if that one client leaves, the information they imparted could be vital in keeping the business up and running.
In the end, whenever complaints get you down, remember that your customers aren’t your enemies. If you reframe the conversations in a constructive manner, you can give them what they want and improve your business at the same time.
Have you ever experienced excellent customer service that changed how you viewed that business? Let us know in the comments.