How great would it be if we never had to deal with unhappy customers? Never had to deal with parcels not arriving or being damaged upon delivery? Customers who understood the difficulties and challenges of being a small business and that sometimes orders were delayed or mixed up or plain and simple wrong.
The fact is, running a business means dealing with people and that doesn't just mean customers; it also means suppliers and couriers and 3rd party contractors, colleagues, general enquirers and browsers (not to mention our reliance on technology and the myriad of train crashes that can happen online and out of our control). All of which means there are plenty of opportunities for things to not go according to plan and like it or not, if we own/run the business, regardless of where the mishap occurred, the buck stops with us.
Here are my top 10 tips for dealing with customer complaints:
- Acknowledge the comment and the emotion. It really doesn't matter how you feel about it. That's not to say "the customer is always right" but it's important to put yourself into their shoes and have empathy for their position. Acknowledging their disappointment disarms them and quells a possible flare up. Resist the temptation to be defensive - it's not about you.
- Solve it right away. Going back and forth and debating on who's right and wrong is time-wasting and not helpful (95% of the time, you'll find in their favour anyway, if only to make it go away). Save yourself some time and heartache and resolve it (even if you have to bite your tongue to do it).
- Don't blame anyone else, regardless of who is at fault (like a supplier or courier). Their contract is with you, not your supplier or courier. If it comes to it, never offer to refund only AFTER you've received a refund - all it says is that you're an unprofessional outfit who is not up to date with consumer laws/contracts.
- Offer to refund or replace without a debate if a parcel has not arrived or is damaged upon delivery. Don't ask for pictures and send proof of delivery etc. etc. Honestly, just don't. I know maybe you think they're "trying it on" but here are some points to consider:
- for every 1 person who is indeed "trying it on" you'll have 10 honest customers who didn't receive the parcel or it really was damaged
- refunding or replacing is a cost of doing business. I don't know of a single business that doesn't do this and is part and parcel of running a professional outfit
- your pricing should cover a percentage for refunds or replacements - if it doesn't, adjust it so it does
- replacing or refunding without quibble is what can turn an unhappy customer into your most loyal fan
- don't treat your customers like criminals or idiots. Trust that they're honest and if they're not, let Karma deal with them. You have a business to run.
- Use complaints as a way to improve your product or service. They can provide vital feedback for a way to get ahead of the competition and learn what your customer wants and needs.
- ALWAYS thank a customer for their feedback - good and bad. It takes time to send an email and I can promise you that for every person that does complain, there'll be 10 that didn't but are bad mouthing you all over town. Be grateful that they bothered to help you improve.
- Consider offering a discount for a future purchase (sometimes this might not be appropriate, so use your judgement) and keep a note of it and their name to ensure you pay extra attention next time round.
- Do what you say you're going to do. If you're offering a refund or replacement, prioritise it. If you've said you're going to change the way to make something, change it. If you're promised to get back to them; get back to them. Not following through with your commitments will only re-enforce their impression that you're not to be trusted and therefore not worthy of their business.
- Check back with the customer to see if the issue is closed once refunds, replacements, apologies and patching up has been done. There is a danger that you poke the dragon but in my experience, having confirmation of closure (or at least that you asked for such; they might not reply) saves bother further down the line if they should come back and with further comments about action not being taken etc
- DO NOT lose a moments sleep on a bad review. Not even a second. Acknowledge any public comments and then take it offline with the customer and do not respond further once you've done. Complain to the relevant bodies if it gets abusive but do not respond to negative feedback once you have closed it off. It will (should) be a very minor chink in your solid armour of rave reviews and the majority of sane people will take it with a pinch of salt and actually if they can see that you’ve handled it quickly and professionally, it will work in your favour.
Most importantly, don't take complaints to heart and allow them to derail you, your passion or your skills. Learn the lesson and move on. For years I worked in hotels and one of the things I loved most was the satisfaction I felt when I turned a complaining customer into a fan. I went out of my way to ensure they had no choice but to nod their head to a 180 turn around in their experience - and you should strive for that too.
REMEMBER: A complaint is just an opportunity to create a fan and improve your business. They won't forget you regardless - might as well make it the best memory they could have so put your big girl pants on and never be afraid of one again!
Until next time, keep creating!