We’ve all heard the phrase “the customer is always right” but that doesn’t mean the customer is always easy to deal with.
With the best will in the world, mistakes sometimes happen, and customers can become upset which often poses a significant challenge for businesses. However, put a good strategy in place to handle these situations and you could turn your angry customers into loyal fans.
Let the person have their say
By actively listening to their complaint rather than having a response ready in your head and simply waiting for your turn to speak, you’ll start to build a rapport with the person in front of you.
As individuals, we want to feel heard and even more so when something causes us to complain. Showing that you’re listening to their problem by paraphrasing what they’ve said, paying attention to non-verbal clues such as body language, and ensuring that you’re not interrupting when they’re speaking, will go a long way to reassuring someone that you’re listening.
Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes can help you to understand their viewpoint and respect their opinion. You may not agree with them but being empathetic to their situation can help to disarm any anger.
Specific actions to demonstrate your empathy can include echoing the frustrations they’ve expressed and nodding as they’re explaining the issue.
Take a breath
Our human impulse is to act first in situations of conflict (fight or flight) which can subsequently lead to angry exchanges. Taking a moment to breathe deeply before responding can help stop you from reacting to the stress of a difficult customer and keep the situation calmer.
When responding to online complaints, a good tip is to wait before pressing send (even for an hour or so) to give you the opportunity to respond objectively.
Assume you have an audience
Remember that other customers make be watching your interaction (either in person or online) so always assume that you have an audience when responding to complaints.
Speaking to an audience rather than an individual also has the benefit of reducing the intensity of a 1:1 interaction, helping you to be more objective when dealing with the problem itself.
Remember it’s not personal
It’s normal for misunderstandings to take place between people and rarely personal when someone is complaining about a problem.
It’s also helpful to remember that the person complaining may simply be having a run of terrible luck and this was the straw which broke the camel’s back. Knowing this can help you to remain calm.
Recognise when to give in
Apologies can go a long way to disarming anger (especially if your business did make an error) and help get to the crux of how to resolve the issue.
It’s also important to recognise when a sticking to your guns is going to cause you more stress and difficulty than it’s worth. Sometimes, the best solution is to compromise and take swift action so that you can move onto other things.
Show a way forward
When you’ve found a solution, summarise the next steps so that both parties understand what’s going to happen.
Importantly, if you’ve promised a call back or follow up email, make sure that it happens within the agreed timescale. Failing to stick to agreed actions and timescales or not getting in touch with updates can cause even more problems.
Extra tips for handling online complaints
Many of the techniques above will work when dealing with negative feedback online, but there are also some additional strategies to bear in mind:
- The longer negative feedback remains unaddressed, the more chance it can damage your reputation so check online regularly to find any complaints about your business. You can do this via Google alerts, @ mentions on your social media accounts, and looking at relevant review sites and forums.
- People generally expect online responses to enquiries within a couple of days, but difficult customers often expect a reply within hours (or minutes). It will also exacerbate their anger if you’re posting on your social media channels but not responding to their complaint.
- Showing that a human is dealing with individual complaints by giving a personalised response rather than copy and pasting a standard reply is vital. Demonstrating empathy, being friendly and apologising can also go a long way to disarming anger.
- Your immediate thought may be to reply to any complaints offline so that you can have a private conversation away from prying eyes. However, it’s important to first respond publicly and ensure that others can see you’ve replied before dealing with the detail offline. This is because unanswered negative comments on your social media accounts can damage your reputation and brand, particularly if new customers are checking out your social feeds prior to purchase.
Nobody likes having to deal with difficult customers, but if you ignore them, shout back at them or send them elsewhere, it can seriously damage your brand and your reputation.
However, by taking a few simple steps, you can become known for your excellent customer service which often helps any negative feedback to fade into the background.
The important things to remember are to take a step back, actively listen to the complaint being raised, demonstrate your understanding and empathy, deal with the issue as if you have an audience watching and find a solution which works for both parties.