After years of working in hospitality and seeing good and bad problem resolution skills (and practicing both myself), I’ve learned some best practices in dealing with angry customers. I have to say the most important first step is to face customer complaints positively.
Think of complaints as a way to improve your business. Many companies spend thousands of dollars on research, focus groups, and studies on their business. If you simply spend time understanding what your own customers are loving and disliking about your business, you can save money and boost your success. I remember working with Restaurant Managers who, when a waiter told them they had an unhappy customer, would get angry themselves, immediately. Before long, wait staff were afraid to go to these Managers with an issue. Many people don’t complain – at least not to the company… but they do tell family and acquaintances, and in the world of Twitter and Facebook, followers and friends. Businesses such as restaurants are extremely lucky to have a captive customer for a period of about an hour, during which they can resolve any issues if they just react quickly and positively. So when an employee comes to you with a complaint from a customer, thank them for bringing it to them and then work with them to resolve it.
If you have an intense desire to be right, customer service may not be for you. It is essential that you believe the customer. This may be difficult, because although we’ve all heard the adage that “the customer is always right”, we know it’s not always true. However, you are dealing with the customer’s perception of what has happened, and that is absolutely true and important. No matter whether you know that the customer actually caused some of the problem themselves (by ordering the wrong thing / not following instructions, etc), or if you know that they are exaggerating or simply being untruthful, it’s not important to prove them wrong. In fact, that will only make matters worse. Go into any customer complaint with the belief that the customer’s perception is reality, and find out what will make them happy.
Angry customers don’t want an explanation. I have seen letters written to customers explaining why things had happened the way they had, or even blaming others for what had happened to the customer. None of these excuses make any difference to the customer. To them, you have ruined their experience, they have had the respect and courage to tell you about it, and they simply want you to fix it. Swallow your pride, apologize for what went wrong, and do what it takes to make the customer happy.
Act quickly and proactively! The longer you wait to deal with a customer complaint, the less likely they will ever deal with your business again, and the more likely they will tell more people. In fact, in some businesses, you may recognize a problem before it is a major one. This is often the case in restaurants, hotels, and even retail delivery operations. Timing or slow service is a very common complaint – from waiting for a table or food in a restaurant, to not having rooms available and ready upon check-in, to delivering furniture or retail items within the timeline promised. These are some complaints that you can get ahead of if you are somewhat proactive. Watch the timing of promised items in your company. If you are nearing a deadline, call or speak with the customer before they realize it. Often times, they simply appreciate the fact that you haven’t forgotten them, and that you cared enough to follow up, and it will not bother them when the timeline is long. However, many managers make the mistake of ignoring these sorts of issues, and hoping that the customer will not notice or not complain. I would guess that 9 times out of 10 the customer does notice, and that although not all of them complain, all of those tell at least 2 people.
At the end of the day, if you watch for issues proactively, approach them in a positive way and always think of the customer as telling the truth, you are well on your way to being able to turn customer complaints around.
What’s the worst customer service you’ve ever had? How many people did you tell about it? Have you ever dealt with a company that resolved a problem and wowed you with their reaction? Tell me about it in the comments below or tweet to me.