Posted by : Amanda Stein Saturday, September 1, 2012

As business owners, we all experience a customer complaint from time to time. Customer service is one of the most important parts of the survival of small businesses. No matter what type of business you're in, customers have a variety of choices and they will always have the ability to take their business elsewhere.

I have seen it time and time again. To be honest, I have even worked with small business owners who made me cringe and their response to a customer complaint. A customer's unhappiness is not some sort of personal attack! It's a reaction to something that has dissatisfied them and many times their dissatisfaction is compounded by other personal issues. For example, a woman's husband just let her, a man just lost his job or a family just lost their house.

Dealing with an irate customer may not be all that pleasant, but you have to start looking at disgruntlement from a different, less personal perspective.

As human beings we all have wants and needs. Our customers are no different. When a customer becomes upset and distraught, it basically means that their wants and needs are not being fulfilled in one sense or another. Now don't get me wrong, I've dealt with many a number of absolutely ridiculous customer complaints, but I have never had a customer resolution meeting (as I call them) where a customer has not left in a calm and semi-satisfied manner.

So I have compiled a list of tips and thoughts to help small business owners be able to better be able to handle customer complaints.

#1 - Stay Calm

Anger is a very powerful emotion that can quickly spiral out of control. It is important to remain calm during every moment of any correspondence that you have with your customers. You will obviously have a much better chance of calming down your customer by remaining calm yourself. Losing your cool when handling a customer complaint will only send the wrong message to both your other customers and employees.

"Developing skills to cope with angry customers' responses may help service staff to remain in control of themselves and the situation." (2)

#2- Listen

There are many times when a customer just wants to be heard. That's it! So, just take your time and listen to what they have to say.

"Feeling rushed for time is the strongest predictor of anger, especially the 'low-grade' forms like feeling annoyed." (1)

#3- Mean It

This part should be a no-brainier, but many managers really miss the mark on being sincere in their responses. Why is this so difficult?

First off, don't be thinking about the other tasks that you need to do. Talk to your customer in a place where there is a limited number of distractions, but is within camera view. Don't zone out on your customer!

"Managerial literature about dealing with angry customers emphasizes the importance of acknowledging what the angry customer is saying and feeling, before acting on what the customer is complaining about and resolving the problem (e.g., Riley 2002)." (2)

#4- Sympathy 

Always, always put yourself in your customers shoes as you are listening to what they have to say. How would you feel? Try to understand what your customer is feeling and understand the reasons why he/she feels this way. You should never take criticism personally. Criticism is simply a way for you and your business to develop better ways of providing services and products and helps businesses gain insight to the feelings that their customers have.

"It is critical that service recovery efforts are forceful and effective. As angry consumers are emotionally heavily involved in the service, they are often more satisfied or dissatisfied with service recovery efforts than with the service failure itself." (2)

#5- Respond Kindly

Show your customer that you understand and care about their issue by responding kindly even if you have to say no. Always tell your customer that you understand his/her concerns and repeat back the information that they have told you. This services two purposes. First, you are showing the customer that you have actually been listening and second, that you have taken this information into consideration before responding.

"In consequence, failed service recoveries are a major source of switching" (2)

As I have said before, take every unhappy customer as a way to learn how to make your services and products better. Customers are basically people who have a needs and wants that you are able to fulfill. Always be honest and always show your customers that you care about their wants, their feelings and their needs.

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Article written by Amanda Stein, Owner of Indiesilver Marketing

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