5 Tips for Handling Unhappy Customers

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In March 2013, a letter from Barclay Bank made the rounds on social media. The original poster of the letter noted that he had recently had a rather unpleasant encounter with the banking giant regarding his L.L. Bean-branded credit card. The cardholder had missed a payment on the card due to his child’s illness, and despite his excellent track record, the bank refused to reverse the penalties and fees. The customer contacted the customer service department to complain, and not only did the representative reverse the fees, she arranged a fundraiser in the office to benefit the customer’s son. The letter that appeared on Facebook not only apologized for the situation, which is all the customer wanted, but offered support and encouragement to the family in crisis.

While the Barclay’s case is an extraordinary one, it demonstrates an important principle for any business owner: keep your customers happy. Not only did the bank keep a customer, the thousands of people who read his story on social media offered kudos to the bank and to L.L. Bean for doing the right thing and going above and beyond.

Unhappy Customers

Online Reviews and Social Media Can Make or Break Your Business

In 2012, a study by market research giant Nielsen revealed that more than 70 percent of consumers turn to online reviews before making a purchase decision on everything from travel to toys. And as anyone who has ever read online reviews can attest, many people take to the Internet to vent about a bad experience or product; those reviews can strongly influence others’ decision to use that product or service.

Even if unhappy customers don’t head online to share their negative experiences, word of mouth can spread quickly about a poorly performing product or terrible customer service. If a disgruntled customer takes to social media to share their tale, a business’ image can take a hit almost immediately, just like a happy customer’s accolades can quickly spread goodwill and attract new customers.

While it’s impossible to make everyone happy with every transaction, you can prevent, or at least limit the number of negative reviews and maintain positive customer relationships by effectively handling unhappy customers.

Step 1: Listen.

We’ve all dealt with customer service representatives who seem to want nothing more than to end the conversation, and are unwilling to do anything but parrot back policy or “pass your concerns onto the management.” That type of response will only frustrate an already unhappy customer. If a customer complains, listen sympathetically and allow the customer to express his frustrations or explain the problem.

Step 2: Avoid Placing Blame

“Oh that’s the shipping department’s fault.” You might be tempted to tell a customer that another department is to blame for the problem, but most customers don’t care who is to blame. They just want the problem fixed. Instead of passing the buck, accept responsibility for the problem and empathize with the customer.

Step 3: Ask the Customer What They Want

Sometimes, a customer will complain just to have someone listen, or because they want the company to know that their product or service didn’t meet expectations. Ask the customer what would make the situation better for them. Would a refund or replacement help? A repair? A future discount? Finding out the customer’s expectation will help you determine a solution that everyone is happy with.

Step 4: Propose a Solution

Sometimes, what the customer wants is acceptable. You can give them what they want and everyone goes away happy. If their request is unreasonable, though, or outside the realm of what you could possibly provide, offer a reasonable solution. Again, the key is to listen and remain sympathetic, and meet the customer halfway. If they haven’t asked for anything and just wanted to vent, offer something anyway, like a small discount on a future purchase. The customer will feel valued, and you have a good chance of a repeat sale.

Step 5: Follow Through

When you’re communicating with an unhappy customer, take detailed notes and confirm the information you receive. And if you promise something, deliver on it. Immediately e-mail the discount code you promised, for example, or send out a replacement the same day. Use your online shipping manager to upgrade the shipping to two-day or overnight, showing the customer that you are serious about making things right.

Even companies that offer legendary customer service, like L.L. Bean, encounter an unhappy or disappointed customer once in a while. But while a complaint every once in a while is unavoidable, if you handle the occasional misstep appropriately, it won’t become a regular occurrence, and your reputation will only improve.

About the Author: Lauren Stone opened her first online shop in 2000, and her empire has since grown to include more than a dozen specialty and niche sites. A customer service fanatic, Lauren uses tools like DYMO Endicia Postage Technologies to manage her shipping and keep her customers happy.

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