Unhappy customers are bad news for any company, and it only takes one of them to shatter a perfectly good day at work for everyone. It only takes one of them to steer many more prospective customers away from you.
Unhappy customers have their reasons. Some don’t feel well, some have unrealistic expectations, and others may just have lousy dispositions. However, we must be honest; others may have a legitimate gripe, for somehow, some way, we may have been the catalyst that tipped the scale to take them from annoyed to cranky to downright unhappy.
Whatever the cause, unhappy customers are still our guests and our hope for future business, and we want them happy again. Said another way, the customer may not always be right, but he or she will always be the customer we want and we need. So we need to take control of customer complaints and turn them to our advantage.
Here are 7 steps for resolving customer complaints which have proven to work well. Do not let time lapse and make things worse with your avoidance. Approach the customer as soon as you learn they are unhappy, and;
1. Listen Intently: Listen to the customer, and do not interrupt them. They need to tell their story and feel that they have been heard.
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
2. Thank Them: Thank the customer for bringing the problem to your attention. You can’t resolve something you aren’t completely aware of, or may be making faulty assumptions about.
3. Apologize: Sincerely convey to the customer your apology for the way the situation has made them feel. This is not the time for preachy reasons, justifications or excuses; you must apologize.
4. Seek the Best Solution: Determine what the customer is seeking as a solution. Ask them; often they’ll surprise you for asking for less than you initially thought you’d have to give – especially when they perceive your apology and intention is genuinely sincere.
5. Reach Agreement: Seek to agree on the solution that will resolve the situation to their satisfaction. Your best intentions can miss the mark completely if you still fail to deliver what the customer wants.
6. Take Quick Action: Act on the solution with a sense of urgency. Customers will often respond more positively to your focus on helping them immediately versus than on the solution itself.
7. Follow-up: Follow-up to ensure the customer is completely satisfied, especially when you have had to enlist the help of others for the solution delivery. Everything up to this point will be for naught if the customer feels that “out of sight is out of mind.”
Problems happen. It’s how you honestly acknowledge and handle them which counts with people. Customers will remember you, and happily give you another chance to delight them when you choose to correct problems with the very best you can offer, proving you value them and their business.
Related Reading: On Ho‘ohiki: Keeping your promises.
Does this sound familiar to you? I had originally published this several years ago for another site, and decided it belonged here on ManagingWithAloha.com as well.
This checklist has been in my basics toolbox for as long as I can remember managing: It was a must-know HO‘OKIPA complement in the early days of my career in Hawai‘i’s hospitality business, and later, I was sure to cover it in my New Manager’s Supervisory Toolkit. It can be helpful in any customer service training you do, and not just for managers – who, in your organization, will normally feel the first barrage of a complaint? Equip them.
The checklist is nowhere near rocket science, but execution of it can be spotty at best; a healthy dose of bravery and self-confidence is required, for the conversation can be challenging. No one likes confrontation of any kind, but we can be more courageous about tackling difficult conversations when we feel equipped with a solid and proven plan. What I personally like best about this checklist, is that we partner with the customer, and we work with them to find the very best solution possible.
Perhaps the biggest stumbling block in execution, is that no one wants to admit they’re wrong, especially when they’re the ones charged with solving a situation that arose elsewhere. The goal of this checklist isn’t admitting to wrongs – don’t confuse that with the sincere, and always necessary apology in step 3. The goal here is Ho‘oponopono — make the situation right again. Follow up internally too, and cure any root cause so the situation which caused the complaint won’t ever be repeated again.