Apologize: The Customer is Always Right

10 tips for effectively handling customer complaints
Apologize: The Customer is Always Right

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The customer is always right. Or so claims the popular, and seemingly motivational, poster so often seen in break rooms and reception areas. However, every service provider knows that the customer is not always right. In fact, sometimes the customer may be quite unreasonable. These days the motto is so deeply ingrained in the consumer consciousness that it’s both a customer expectation and the way in which a company must conduct business to remain competitive. 

Accepting the fact that sometimes things don’t go as planned is part of business. How a business handles a complaint is what matters most. Customers will often understand when an error has been made, but their expectations for how well it is resolved will be high. Companies must be prepared to properly navigate customer complaints when they arise. 

Though it would be easier to ignore these situations and continue doing business with only satisfied customers, here are three reasons to have an apology plan in place: 

1)  Reputation. A customer will share an experience with more people when they are dissatisfied than when they are pleased. With today’s technology — whether right or wrong — a bad experience can go viral on social media and the Internet, thereby hurting a business’ reputation on a much larger scale. Handling complaints properly reduces a company’s chances of establishing a bad reputation.

2)  Loyalty. Earning the business of a new customer is often more difficult and more costly than keeping a current customer. One complaining customer typically represents others with the same problem who did not voice a grievance. They simply don’t do business with you anymore, and they don’t recommend your company. It is worth the effort to keep clients happy. Overcoming tough obstacles with customers will often cement their loyalty to your company.  

3)  Integrity. Customers do business with people whom they know and trust. A company benefits when the community views them as honest, easy to do business with, and fair. A company demonstrates these values when it handles complaints well. 

Here are 10 tips for effectively handling customer complaints:

1. Plan for the unexpected. Have a company procedure in place to handle a potential complaint. Determine in advance how complaints are to be addressed, who takes the call, and who has the authority to issue a credit, if applicable.

2. Be proactive. Though the temptation is to duck and hide when you know that your company has failed, you’ll gain more respect with your customers by calling them before they call you. When you know that you will not meet a deadline or a delivery as scheduled, be proactive. Let the client know what’s happened and what is being done to resolve the issue. This allows you to diffuse the situation and gives your customer time to adjust expectations. Most people will appreciate that you’re on top of things, and you will often be able to avert complaints.

3. Don’t get defensive. It’s easy to jump on the defense when an angry customer is screaming at you. Upset people often exaggerate situations or get confused about details. When their perception is that expectations have not been met, they feel wronged. While you don’t have to agree with a customer, you do need to listen and ask questions to work towards a resolution. Getting angry or defensive will ignite the situation further and lead to more problems. It’s best to remain calm, listen and respond appropriately. Moreover, be ready to resolve the situation.

4. Say “Thank you.” Why? When a customer calls you to complain, they are giving you the opportunity to correct a situation. They are, in essence, giving you another chance to keep their business. The alternative is that they simply never do business with you again. Since it is much easier to keep a customer than to earn a new customer, show clients that you appreciate their concerns and that you are willing to make a mistake right.

5. Respond promptly. Nothing infuriates a customer more than to be put on hold or told to wait when they have an issue. Respond with a sense of urgency. For an issue that may take longer than a day to resolve, communicate when the customer can expect a return phone call or a resolution.

6. Never throw your staff under the bus. Blaming employees is like admitting you knew they were going to mess something up, but you kept them on your team anyway. A more professional approach is to communicate your confidence in your team while apologizing that they have let both you and the customer down in this particular situation.

7. Educate the customer. Often, a complaint is actually a misunderstanding over how a product should perform or what is included in a service. Be specific when possible and inform the customer of exactly what he or she can expect regarding the product or service, delivery options and warranties.

8. Inspect what you expect. Track complaints to evaluate trends. You may learn established service procedures are not being followed, or that a particular employee is not adhering to procedure, or perhaps that management expectations are unreasonable. This is valuable information to evaluate company procedures to prevent similar complaints.

9. Compensation. At times, a credit is the best way to resolve an issue. In other cases, an apology and a resolution are sufficient. A great middle ground that also shows that a company wants to maintain the relationship with a customer is to offer a credit toward the next purchase. A company is able to keep the current earnings and encourage future business.

10. Write an apology. A personal letter or note sends the message that you take responsibility for an issue and that you care enough about your customer’s business to apologize. Send it promptly, and provide details about current problem resolution and/or measures the company plans to take to prevent a repeat of the situation. 

About the Author
Beverly Lewis runs a marketing agency, the Beverly Lewis Group, dedicated to helping small businesses with marketing solutions. Having served as the director of sales & marketing for two portable sanitation companies, her unique background combined with an expertise in marketing is well suited for the portable sanitation industry. She believes that a company’s image is represented in every aspect of the company. She is an active member of the PSAI and was awarded the distinguished Sani-Award in 2008 for outstanding service. Contact Beverly at beverly@beverlylewisgroup.com or visit www.beverlylewisgroup.com.


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