There are times in the life of every small business owner when you come across a customer that lets you know that you made a mistake. We are all human, mistakes happen, but it’s how you respond that makes the difference between whether you get an angry review on Yelp or Tripadvisor or if you use the opportunity to build a relationship that will gain you a customer for life.
Why is this important? Repeat business is the key to staying in business. Because of this, it’s best to have a plan in place to handle a challenging situation with an unhappy or difficult customer. It’s also essential to make sure you train your staff on the best ways to handle difficult customers.
Here is some advice on how to avoid sticky situations in the first place.
1. Listen First. Sometimes an angry customer just wants to be heard. Don’t allow anyone to curse at you, but show empathy as much as possible. Let the customer know that they’ve been heard and ask them what they want. If it’s not too unreasonable take action quickly to correct the problem.
2. Empower Your Staff. No one upset wants to wait for someone to get back to them on a solution. Make sure you have given your staff the authority to rectify any customer issue on the spot. Empower them to make up to $250 – $1000 decisions, especially in a retail setting. E-commerce customer service reps need this training as well. Train your staff twice a year on these kinds of customer service issues.
3. Track Down Negative Reviews on Yelp. If a customer takes the time to bash your business online, that is a cry for help. Track them down and fix it, and when you do ask them to go back and correct the record on how you saved the day. As a rule, you should respond to all reviews good or bad, but those bad ones are an opportunity to train your team better and get an evangelist for your brand if you fix the problem.
4. Don’t be Quick to Offer a Refund. Don’t offer a refund if there was a failure on delivering what was promised. First, ask for a chance to try again or offer a discount on the next service. I recently rented two buses for a trip, and on the way back one of the buses overheated and caused the passengers to be very uncomfortable. I contacted the bus company, and they offered a discount off the next trip, which I was satisfied with.
5. Review Your Contract. If you are in a service business and a conflict arises, first go back to what the contract says and then look for a compromise, even if legally you don’t need to. Having your terms in writing gives you leverage and power if a client becomes difficult to work with. This often happens with scope creep in service businesses. Make sure you don’t do any additional work without a sign off from the client on who’s paying for the additional request.
6. Start the Business Relationship with a Kick-off Meeting. Use the meeting to make sure that all stakeholders have the same understanding of the goals and deliverables, work-plan and payment terms. To manage customer expectations, have the client sign and agree upon the project timeline.
7. Insist on a Single Point of Contact. You can only have one person communicating with your company on behalf of the client. Miscommunication is the primary way things get messed up and cause confusion. You also want to make sure you’re not getting direction from too many people.
8. Use Project Management Software. Track your customer communication. Manage your team communications and deliverables through a web-based software like Basecamp, Slack or Teamwork, so that nothing gets missed.
9. Avoid rework. Agree in advance on the number of draft and revisions the client will see before a new budget will be required.
10. Don’t Discount Your Price. Over my 20 years in business, whenever I cut my price, I always regretted it. Because people will treat you like you cut your price. People will always ask you to reduce your fee. Sell on your value, and what the solution would mean to your client, not price. Don’t discount unless there is a reason that brings another upside potential that’s guaranteed such as a long-term contract, high-end video testimonial you can use on the website or a strategic referral.
When expectations aren’t met, customers have the right to complain. Don’t take it personally; just find a way to turn a negative situation into a positive experience for them. Empower your staff to fix problems when you are not around. Clients will always remember how you made them feel. Your goal is to try to preserve the relationships at all costs.
Still, there will always be some customers you just won’t be able to please. In that case, cut yourself some slack and fire them as a customer.