How to solve three common customer-service dilemmas
Keep your cool – and keep your customers happy – in these situations
Dealing with unhappy customers is an essential part of running a business. Corey Atkinson, vice-president of Learning & Development at Markham, Ont.-based Customer Service Professional Network (CSPN), which helps companies improve their customer experience, offers these tips on smoothing things over – even when the customer isn’t right.
Dilemma #1: A customer in your store is angry or overly demanding.
How to handle it: Instead of responding defensively, be curious about the root of the reaction. It’s likely a functional need (“my car isn’t working”) or an emotional one (“I have a lot to do, and you’re giving me the runaround. I need you to know it’s important to me”). “Seven times out of 10, you have to satisfy the emotional need before the functional need,” Atkinson says. “There are times when people first need to be heard.”
He suggests responding to the customer with the same emotion they’re experiencing. “They want someone to acknowledge that they’re frustrated, disappointed or feeling betrayed,” he says. “Empathizing with those key words helps to get people to listen. When people are upset, they don’t listen well.”
Once they’re listening, offer a three-part solution: verify what went wrong, ask questions and offer a solution. The customer then knows what to expect, and you can resolve the situation.
Dilemma #2: Your company botched an order, missed a delivery or sold a defective product.
How to handle it: “Something happened behind the scenes, and now the customer is in front of you or on the phone, and you have to say what you’ll do to resolve the issue,” says Atkinson. “You can’t just provide a solution – you have to provide something extra, because a promise has been broken. The mistake might be small to you, but the customer feels like they’ve been betrayed.”
The “something extra” isn’t necessarily a freebie. Atkinson suggests offering information – like a tip about days and times when service is faster. “Depending on the business, sometimes you do have to compensate, like giving away a $7 dessert,” he says. “If the customer keeps coming back, it was worth it.”
Dilemma #3: An upset customer is trashing your company on social media.
How to handle it: It’s all too easy for dissatisfied shoppers to go online and vent their frustrations without hearing your side. Paying attention to social media – searching for your company name on Twitter, for example – helps contain conflicts before they go viral. “Organizations need someone keeping an eye on social media, and to be able to respond: ‘We’re very sorry you had a bad experience, my name is so-and-so, we’d like to make it right, please give us a call, we’d love to talk about it,’” says Atkinson. “Once [a complaint] is out there, it’s out there. Try to respond in the most professional way possible.”
If you get a bad review, it’s not the end of the world. Building up positive reviews mitigates the effect of a few negative ones. And if someone makes an honest mistake, point it out. (“I’ve heard stories of people who wrote bad reviews but never used the actual business. They were actually complaining about a competitor,” says Atkinson.) And if a customer has a great experience with your business, don’t be shy about asking them to share it on social. (For more tips on dealing with negative feedback, click here)