Every long-standing business owner knows what it’s like to face a complaining customer on the other side of the counter, be it physical or virtual. It doesn’t matter that you go the extra mile for all of your satisfied customers, there is always the new customer who doesn’t know you yet. To them, you’re just another company providing just another product until you’ve made good in their eyes. That’s not only the way it is, but perhaps the way it should be.
Everyone has experienced the person who is just out to get something for nothing, and is ready to do whatever it takes to do so. I’m putting aside that type of person for purposes here. I want to talk about the average customer, who just wants what they paid for, what you promised for the money. They can be difficult at times, also, and usually it’s not their intention to be difficult. So how do you deal with the customer who seems eager to prove your business to be in the wrong? Well, for starters, by going about your business with them with ample due respect. What do I mean? Let me explain…
You have a customer. That customer made a purchase early in the morning, while you were away from the shop (let’s say you’re the owner, and your tiny customer service team has already got its hands full just accounting for foreign and special orders, etc.). While you were away, a perfectly well-meaning customer has not only attempted to make a purchase of your product on your site, but has run into a snag, and didn’t even receive the product due to a problem that some customers experience. Now the problem isn’t technically your fault as a business owner, and is not due to any lax customer service on your company’s part thus far, or any real problem with your site or your order system, but still, the customer has paid for something and is sitting there empty-handed and unhappy about it.
Now, not only have they been through that experience, but they quickly took action to notify the first logical point of arbitration that they could. Now you come into the office and see this thing lying on your desk. Now, you’re not only scrambling to please a loose canon out in cyberspace, but trying also to deal with the arbiter, who takes the complaints whether or not sufficient time has elapsed. My recommendation at this point is to just STOP. Breathe. Think. See this as an opportunity to grow as a business owner or business manager.
It may sound counterintuitive, but it is precisely when your business is tested that it stands to improve the most. When being put under close scrutiny, that is the time to shine. So in the case of the demanding, complaining customer, realize that this person could be (and in fact, often is) yourself in just such a situation. Take the time to envision how the customer came to get to this point. See things from their perspective. And now do what you alone can do as the company: make things go right for your customer in a way so that if nothing had gone wrong, the customer would never have had the opportunity to see the quality of your company in action.
A few things to keep in mind when dealing with a complaining customer:
1) Right or wrong, treat them with the utmost respect and understanding. Avoid sarcasm or implying error. Let the customer discover the error for themselves.
2) Make right their issue, or at least show them how they may have misread the process, and take responsibility for the fact that it mishap occurred in the first place.
3) Ask them to let you know if they experience any further issues with the product or service. Why stop the learning process at resolving the first issue. Milk the revelation source for all it is willing to give. This kind of information is a gift to your company that most bigger companies pay to discover via surveys. Accept feedback when it gives itself.
4) Once their issue is fully resolved and closed, make a case study out of the issue for the good of customer service function.
5) Use the lessons learned to make sure that THAT issue is never repeated.
6) After the situation is resolved amicably, thank the customer for their business. This says, “we don’t care who’s right, we prefer that our customers are satisfied.”
This last item may not be the first thing on your mind after having just been accused of not doing right if you were not actually in the wrong. Perhaps the arbiter makes things complicated, as well. That can really add to the stress of a difficult day. However, if you can keep your cool and lose the ego during a difference with a customer, this is the most favorable time to learn where the weaknesses in your system actually are, and to correct them, thereby increasing the efficiency of your business and establishing your values with at least one (demonstably vocal) customer.
In the end, customer service IS your business, in every way. Anyone can promise, sell, make, and deliver a product. It takes something more to actually satisfy the customer. This is the essence of how customer service bridges the gap between just another company, and a highly esteemed one with real supporters.
Mark Brimm is Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Marcana.com and is author of AdWords University: The Complete Guide to AdWords and other previous related books on search marketing. He is currently working on a forthcoming book on social media strategy.
Mark consults on SEO & SEM, general web marketing and social media at Interface Communications Group where he is Partner and Director of Digital Marketing. Some of his specialties include SEO (search engine optimization), social media optimization (SMO), as well as PR campaign concepts, marketing plans and general web marketing related project management.