How to Handle Unhappy Customers
I don’t normally turn my email off on my MAC when I am working at my desk. However, over the years, I have found that when I am working on a project, I can focus better and longer when I close all the programs and remove the distractions that pop up.
A little over a year ago…I was finishing up a website project for a client. I knew I had about 3-4 hours’ worth of work to do and then, I could get my client live…so I turned off my email and went to work.
When I brought my email back online, there were 30-40 emails sitting there waiting on me. But, right in the middle of the list, these words stood out in the subject line: “I’m Really Not Happy with You!”
I stared at it for a moment. My heart was beating fast…”What? Wait…what do you mean you’re not happy with me? What did I do?” I knew who the email was from…a website client.
We’ve all been there…whether it was in our own business or working for someone else; that customer who’s not at all happy with you, your service, your product, etc. I should admit that I don’t have to deal with many unhappy customers in my own business, so when I saw this email, it set me back a bit.
Not many people like to be confrontational. As a matter of fact, it’s a proven fact that many unhappy customers will just disappear without ever telling you they had a problem with you or your service. They will just never show up again or won’t do business with you again. As much as I hate to hear when someone is unhappy with me or the service I’ve given them…I would much rather know if there is a problem so I have the opportunity to fix the issue, if possible. Besides…I think I am a pretty easy person to work with and usually very accommodating to my clients. So, if there is an issue…I must have really screwed something up!
Do you have a system in place to follow up on your service levels when things aren’t up to par?
What do you do when you have an unhappy customer? How do you fix it when it seems broken? Here’s how I handled the situation above:
- My client was upset with me, because he emailed me that morning and it had been several hours without a response. He had an issue with his website and needed me to make an update.
- I read through his email, went into the website, and made the change that he requested.
- Next, I checked my phone to ensure that I hadn’t missed a call or text from him. Nothing there.
- I immediately picked up the phone and called him. To say that he was upset would have been an understatement. He was extremely “ticked”, because I hadn’t responded to his email in the amount of time he expected a response.
- I let him vent and explain to me why he was so upset with me.
- And then I apologized.
I apologized for not getting back to him in a timeframe that he felt was reasonable. I then apologized for not giving him the instruction to reach me if there was ever an emergency. I explained that I am not always available to respond to emails immediately…
“I have other clients, I work off-site, and I travel frequently, so responding to email immediately is not always possible. I have a 24-hour response rule with my clients. If you feel the issue can wait…then an email works perfectly fine. If you have an emergency, please either call my cell phone or text me. I will respond immediately in some form.”
I then explained to him that my normal work hours are Monday through Friday, from 8AM to 5PM ET.
“I ask that you respect my downtime in the evenings and on the weekends. So please only reach out to me during those times if it is truly an emergency.”
- I apologized again and told him that his business was very important to me and that I would always do my best to be available for him when he needed assistance.
I could have responded in a defensive manner, but that wouldn’t have helped the situation. In most cases, it doesn’t. I knew that I had done nothing wrong, and I didn’t deserve to be on the receiving end of the angry phone call. But it happens. He immediately calmed down, once he understood that I wasn’t avoiding him. He thanked me for reaching out and for explaining the process of how to reach me in times of an emergency. He was happy and content to know what the process was and how to use it, should an issue come up in the future.
From that day forward I never had another customer service issue during our working relationship. Here are three steps to help you manage an upset customer:
1. Step into the issue with an open mind. In my experience, many times it comes down to a common misunderstanding that can be worked out.
2. Start off by apologizing…it immediately tones down their anger. “I am so sorry that you are upset,” “I apologize that I wasn’t available for you when you needed me,” “I apologize that this isn’t working the way you envisioned it…”
3. Next, make sure you understand what the customer is, or was, expecting, then ask if you can work through creating a solution that will work for both of you. Maybe you dropped the ball, maybe they did…either way, it doesn’t matter. What matters is whether you can fix the issue and save the customer.
You will find that most upset customers simply want to be heard and understood. If you can give them a platform to express their anger and then move toward the solution, it will usually work itself out.
However, be prepared to deal with the 1% of customers who have no intention of working through a solution. They just want to yell or scream. You are wrong, they are right.
Ensure that you have a written customer service policy that outlines refunds. There are times when a refund is the only way to appease the customer and to allow you to move past the issue. There are times when customers may not deserve a refund.
As you are reading this, you may already be formulating your process about how you would handle these issues. That’s awesome! Starting the process of understanding how you would handle it helps you be better prepared when, and if, it does happen.
If you have employees, these processes should be written out and reviewed with your staff so they know how you want “your” customers handled. Employees will deal with customers and clients much differently than you will.