Inevitably, we’re going to make a mistake. (I wish that weren’t so!) And we’re going to have an angry customer on our hands. The good news is that a mistake is almost always fixable if you act quickly and decisively. In fact, you can actually increase customer loyalty if you handle the fumble well.
The biggest mistake that companies make in handling an angry customer is not having a carefully designed or documented procedure already in place. Not having one then leaves the employee hearing about the complaint hanging in the wind, forced to respond and make up a plan as he goes along.
So, what do you need to consider when creating a complaint response plan?
Your customers’ feelings. When someone is angry or disappointed, they need to vent. Listen empathetically. Don’t argue or refute anything they say at this point. Let them just get their complain off their chest. When they’ve started to repeat themselves, then break into the stream of the conversation and move things forward.
Your words. There are no words more powerful than “I’m sorry” in this situation. The biggest fear your customer has is that you won’t care enough to fix the problem. That they’re going to be stuck resolving the situation or accepting the status quo. You will get 90% of the way to resolution if you honestly and genuinely show your empathy and apologize.
Even if you think it’s your customer’s fault—-apologize that they’re unhappy, dissatisfied, etc.
What comes next. The other big worry your customer has is, “What are you going to do about it?” Your plan needs to include very time- and action-specific choices. Are you going to replace the item? Repeat the service delivered? Discount their invoice? Send someone out to inspect the situation? Will it happen today? This week? Within 30 days? On their next invoice?
Be sure you have several options for your employees to choose from, based on the situation.
Not making excuses. The reality is customers don’t care why you made a mistake. It doesn’t matter if half your team called in sick or the parts didn’t come in on time. If there is a misunderstanding—and whatever made the client unhappy is likely to happen again—do clarify expectations. But if that’s not the case, blame and excuses should be avoided.
Over-communicating. Throughout the process of making good on the mistake, keep communicating with the customer. You cannot overdo this. When the part ships from the warehouse, let them know. When you discover a problem that will add a day to the repair time, tell them. No matter how small a change or shift in circumstance—be sure your customers know you’re on top of the situation and want to make sure they are too.
A memorable gesture. Think of it as a token of your regret. It might be some value add to your product or service. For example, if you sell smart phones, it could be an extra car charger. Or it could be unrelated to what you sell. Maybe it’s flowers or a gift basket of muffins for their office crew. But go out of your way to not only say “I’m sorry” but act like you’re sorry.
That is a critical step because this is where you turn this lemon into lemonade. If you acknowledge the problem, apologize and fix it, odds are that they won’t tell a soul. But if you add the gesture of giving them something extra or having something delivered to their home or office, now that will get talked about. Suddenly, they are telling the whole story about how you rose to the occasion and resolved the problem—and then you even sent them a gift.
Suddenly, you go from zero to hero. Your customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They just want to know you’ll care enough to make things right when they go wrong.