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Responding to Customer Complaints: 11 Tips for Dealing with Unhappy Clients

Emily B,

Apr 3, 2018 @ 4:00PM 4 minute read

Dealing with upset customers can be one of the hardest parts of running your field service business.

Unfortunately, it’s also unavoidable.

Mistakes happen, it’s impossible to please everyone, and sometimes customers are miserable for reasons beyond your control. Whatever the case, you’re bound to encounter an upset customer at one point or another.

Rather than treating customer complaints as an unpleasant fact of life, you should look at them as a chance to improve. Even better, if you’re able to go above and beyond to remedy the situation, a bad experience or service issue presents an opportunity to transform an unhappy customer into a long-term, loyal advocate for your business.

This is a phenomenon known as the service recovery paradox.

When everything goes according to plan, it’s difficult for customers to see or appreciate the amount of effort that goes into the fantastic work you do. The smoother things go, the less of a chance you have to show customers how committed you are to delivering great service.

On the other hand, a mistake or service failure creates an opportunity to improve the customer’s experience, demonstrate your dedication to your craft and your customers, and, strengthen the customer’s loyalty.

This is a phenomenon known as the service recovery paradox.

However, you can only take advantage of the service recovery paradox if you know how to recover from a service failure. The tactics listed below will allow you to respond to upset customers in a way that turns negative experiences into long-term customer relationships.

11 simple yet effective tactics for handling upset customers

1. Be responsive

Your first goal is to de-escalate the situation by addressing the customer’s concern. This means acknowledging and responding to questions or complaints as quickly as possible.

For instance, if they’ve left an angry voicemail, call them back as soon as you can. If they left an angry review online, respond immediately. The longer a customer goes without hearing from your company, the more frustrated they’ll be when you do get around to talking to them.

A quick response communicates that you’re prioritizing the customer’s concerns and are serious about making the situation right.

2. Get on a first-name basis

People love the sound of their own name – especially if the alternative is being called ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir.’

Using a customer’s first name is an easy way to make your apology feel sincere and reiterates that you’re just a person talking to another person, rather than a company addressing a generic customer. It humanizes the situation.

This is particularly powerful if you’re speaking to a customer on the phone rather than face to face. Saying their name establishes a stronger connection and makes them more likely to sympathize with the fact that you’re doing your best to correct the situation

3. Express gratitude

Thank the customer for choosing to hire you in the first place as well as for their patience while you work through the issue.

You can say something like: “I really appreciate you bringing this to my attention and can’t thank you enough for your patience and loyalty while we figure this out.”

Simply voicing your appreciation can go a long way in strengthening customer relationships. It acknowledges that you understand their frustration, which is why you’re so grateful for their patience.

4. Practice active listening

Oftentimes, the best thing you can do for an unhappy customer is to hear them out. They want to know that their concerns are being heard and acknowledged.

So, when they first contact you with a complaint, give them a chance to vent. Don’t interrupt or try to present a solution right away. They need an opportunity to voice their frustrations before they’re able to shift their focus to thinking about possible solutions.

If you feel the urge to interject before the customer has finished explaining their concerns, you can even put yourself on mute. This forces you to sit and really listen to what a customer is saying.

5. Repeat the issue back to them

If a customer is emotional when they contact you, it can take a bit of digging to find out what the root of the issue actually is. For this reason, we recommend that you always repeat their concerns back to them before attempting to respond with a solution.

Calmly state what the issue seems to be so that the customer can clarify if need be. This ensures that you know what they’re actually upset about, shows that you’re listening, and helps calm down a stressed-out customer. Plus, it gives you a starting point when it comes time to present a solution.

6. Show some empathy

Sometimes all a customer wants is to have their feelings validated. So, empathize with their experience and emphasize that you understand their concerns.

For example, you might offer: “I understand you’re still waiting on flooring samples that were scheduled to be delivered last week. I know how frustrating this must be for you, especially since you’re renovating on a tight schedule.”

Once you’ve established that you empathize with the customer’s situation, it’s time to apologize so you can shift the focus towards solving the problem.

7. Say sorry (and mean it)

A sincere apology is key to mending customer relationships. In fact, saying you’re sorry can make a bigger impact on how a customer feels about the situation than offering credit or discounts on future services.

More specifically, a genuine apology can double customer satisfaction with the outcome of service issues. According to Nicereply, a study from the Carey School of Business found that only “only 37% of upset customers were satisfied when offered something in return for the issue. However, if the business said sorry on top of the credit, satisfaction increased to 74%.”

only 37% of upset customers were satisfied when offered something in return for the issue. However, if the business said sorry on top of the credit, satisfaction increased to 74%.

The secret to an effective apology is that be specific to the individual customer’s situation. That means acknowledging why they’re upset, accepting ownership for the problem, and then offering to fix it.

8. Present a path forward

Now that you’ve established a common ground by identifying the issue and started to rebuild your relationship by apologizing, you can start to talk about next steps.

Before you propose a solution, consider what your customer is most looking to get out of this situation. For instance, if they feel they didn’t get enough value from the transaction, you could offer them a discount for future services or throw in a freebie to help mend the relationship.

Or if a customer is unhappy with the end result of work done by your company, you should offer to evaluate the situation in person and (unless they’re being unreasonable) you could offer to re-do the job so it’s up to your professional standards and they’re happy with the result.

9. Provide multiple options

When presenting potential solutions, you can give the customer control by letting them choose from a number of viable choices.

For instance, you could say: “I have a few ideas for how we can make this right. Let’s talk about some of these options together, so we can choose the best course of action together.”

If they continue to reject every solution you propose, you should ask the customer directly what would make them happiest. Either way, you’ve managed to turn the situation from a combative you-vs-them dynamic to a collaborative effort focused on reaching a resolution.

10. Turn negative feedback into positive change

Just because you’ve resolved the issue this time, doesn’t mean it won’t crop up again with another customer. That is, unless you use the negative customer feedback received from this experience to fuel change within your company.

Start by pinpointing the exact cause of the issue. Where did it start? Who was involved?
Once you identify what went wrong and how the situation could have been avoided, you can use that information to minimize the chance of a similar problem occurring in the future.

For instance, if the problem was related to customer service, you could consider additional training for your field techs or look for ways to improve employee onboarding. You could also encourage your team members to discuss tips for handling or preventing common customer service issues.

11. Follow-up and share any improvements

When all is said in done, you should check in one more time to make sure the customer is satisfied with the outcome. Ask if there’s anything else you can do for them and thank them again for their patience.

Following up builds credibility, reassures the customer, and increases the chances that they’ll become a loyal client and potentially an advocate for your business.

It’s also a good idea to walk the customer through any changes you’ve made to prevent it from happening again. The more details you provide about the steps you’re taking to fix the issue, the more clearly the customer will see how hard you’re working to deliver amazing service.

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