Customer satisfaction should always be a priority. Regardless of your industry, it’s important to ensure your customers are receiving products and services that are in line with their expectations. Fail to deliver on these expectations and you put your company’s reputation at risk.
Of course, you can’t please everyone all the time. Even with the most thoughtful customer retention strategies in place, you’re bound to fall short of customer expectations at some point or another. It’s easier than ever for unhappy customers to air out their negative feelings on social media. One bad interaction can cause long-term harm to your business.
It’s impossible to control how every customer feels about your policies, procedures, and service offerings. It’s important, then, to focus on what you can control: how you respond to unhappy customers. By taking the right tact, business owners can mitigate the far-reaching consequences an unhappy customer might have on the brand. Handle things the right way and you just might even earn greater loyalty down the road.
Key Strategies for Improving the Customer Experience
Offer a Sympathetic Ear
Nothing makes a customer more irritated than the feeling her complaints aren’t being taken seriously. On the other hand, even serious negative feelings can be assuaged by a sympathetic ear. It’s important to make sure customers know you value their business and take their view of the situation seriously. Customer satisfaction often boils down to your ability to express empathy.
Often what an aggrieved customer wants more than anything else is an opportunity to vent. This costs a business owner nothing, yet it’s an invaluable tool for calming frayed feelings and repairing any breach in the relationship. The key is to stay calm, avoid personalizing the situation and listen sympathetically.
The next time a frustrated customer gives you a piece of their mind, work on being an active listener. Rather than just waiting for your turn to speak, really pay attention to their concerns and the language they use to describe how they’re feeling. When they’re done venting, try to validate their feelings – resist the urge to contradict or point out holes in their argument. By reassuring the customer that you understand their frustrations, you can turn an unhappy customer into one who is willing to work with you on a solution.
Extend a Discount or Freebie
There’s a reason why a business-like McDonald’s will offer you a free apple pie if there’s a problem with your order — it often immediately defuses a potentially unhappy situation. Discounts, or free items, funnel the attention of the customer to the benefit they’ve just received. Instead of being angry about a customer service or product issue, they’re now pleased with the gift they’ve received.
It’s important to note that this discount or free item doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Customers are often happy to receive a small token of your gratitude. It lets them know that you value their time — and their patronage.
As far as customer retention strategies go, this one is a classic for a reason. Everyone likes free stuff, especially on the heels of a bad experience. Still, it shouldn’t be the only strategy you employ when diffusing tension. Offering freebies rarely resolves the issue altogether. Some customers may even see through this strategy and grow more frustrated that their initial concerns aren’t being dealt with accordingly. If you’re going to extend a discount or freebie, make sure you combine the offer with a thorough apology or resolution to the current issue.
Provide a Coupon for Future Use
Providing unhappy customers with a discount will usually help smooth over a rough interaction. There is, however, no guarantee that customers will return. One bad experience could cost a business owner years of repeat business.
If you’d like another shot at providing a more pleasant customer experience, consider offering a coupon or a voucher that may be redeemed at a future visit. This makes it more likely your unhappy customer will return, giving your company the chance to earn back her long-term trust and patronage.
Learning how to handle difficult customers often means learning to discern which strategies to employ to diffuse tension. While offering a coupon for future use might seem like a no brainer, some customers may grow frustrated by the gesture. At its core, the offer doesn’t resolve the current issue – it can even appear like you’re passing the buck. Instead of tossing out coupons at the first sign of trouble, wait until you’ve resolved the issue to extend such an offer. Use the coupon as an added bonus, not a cure-all resolution.
It’s not enough to simply learn how to handle angry customers – you’ve got to solicit feedback so you can prevent future unhappiness. Nobody knows your customers quite like themselves. Customer feedback is incredibly powerful. It reveals how you’re perceived, how satisfied your customers are, and where any gaps in service might be focused. It’s impossible to know where your customer satisfaction levels are at without regular feedback.
The mere act of soliciting feedback sends a message to customers that their opinions matter. By demonstrating your commitment to the customer experience, you show how much you value their insights. Of course, not every frustrated customer will be thrilled about voicing their opinion. Some may not want to waste any more time with your company. In this way, customer feedback is self-selecting. You’ll typically only hear from customers who truly believe in the power of constructive criticism. They’re often the people who are most willing to give your business a second chance.
Don’t wait for customer dissatisfaction to collect feedback. In fact, you should be asking for customer insight at every opportunity you get. With a finger on the pulse of your customer base, you’ll make more informed decisions about service offerings and customer retention strategies.
Respond to Customer Reviews
Speaking of keeping your finger on the pulse, when is the last time you read through recent customer reviews? Dealing with unhappy customers isn’t limited to customer service interactions. The internet echoes with millions of new negative reviews every day. If you wait too long to respond or take action, those reviews could be putting off prospective customers. Rather than wait for your online scores to drop, be proactive about responding to customer reviews as they pour in.
People want to be heard and understood. By responding to customer feedback, you demonstrate your willingness to take criticism and make changes. Rather than being a mere name on a receipt, customers become instrumental to how you run your organization. Taking interest in a person on a human level can do wonders for the interpersonal dynamic.
Of course, responding to negative reviews doesn’t just benefit the original reviewer. Your response gives prospective customers an idea of what they can expect from your customer service offerings. While it seems counterintuitive, dealing with unhappy customers on a public stage can actually showcase your patience and commitment to the customer experience.
A Follow Up Note
Apologizing at the point of sale will usually help smooth ruffled feathers — at least as long as it’s earnest and sincerely offered. Sometimes, however, it makes sense to take things a step further.
In a case where you feel it’s warranted, consider reaching out via e-mail or mailed letter to express how much you value that customer’s business. This kind of personal touch is rare in today’s business world — and might just overcome any lingering bad feelings.
Unhappy customers are inevitable. No matter what customer retention strategies you employ or how above and beyond you’re willing to go, some people will bring negativity to your operation. It’s how you respond in the face of frustration and anger that paves the way to real change. By leading with empathy and getting to the root of the issue, you can alleviate hard feelings and win customers over for life. The steps outlined above are just a start. Develop your own plan of action to diffuse tension and work towards a solution.
Of course, if you’ve got your hands full and don’t have time to resolve such issues, you may want to call in the reinforcement. MAP Communications offers stellar customer experiences for all of our partners. There’s no shame in outsourcing your customer service department. Whether we supplement your existing team or act as your sole customer service representatives, trust MAP to deliver quality support 24/7.