What To Do About An Unhappy Customer

With unhappy customers, you can take the attitude that not everyone is going to be happy or you can do something about it.  An unhappy customer may be just somebody trying to take advantage of you or could be the symptom of a problem, and your job is to first determine which it is.

Listen and try to understand the problem

Many disgruntled customers will be hostile and you want to calm them down a bit so that they explain their problem.  Don’t get in a shouting war or get personal, just listen and try to make sense out of the customer’s problem.  When you think you have it, repeat the problem back to the customer so that they can acknowledge that you have it right.

Try to make it right with the customer

Rather than suggesting remedies for the individual customer’s problem, ask them what you can do to make it right with them.  If they are unable or unwilling to give any suggestions, make a suggestion but give them the opportunity first.  Often their suggested remedy will be reasonable and something you can easily do, as customers just want things to be even.  If you do get a pie-in-the-sky suggestion from the customer, you can tell them that you are unable to do what they are asking and make a counter offer.  Try to get an agreement to make the problem right.

You may get an indication during this step that the customer is just trying to take advantage of you.  If this is the case, you may want to stand firm.  Generally though you have to assume the customer is honest and dealing in good faith.

Ask the customer how you could have avoided the problem

See if the customer has any suggestions about how the problem could have been avoided.  If the customer has constructive ideas, make sure to take notes.

If you have employees, work with them to improve the business processes

Rather than implement process changes based on the customer’s suggestions, consult with employees or business partners about the problem and see if they have any suggestions that might help.  Often employees will have good ideas that can help and you want to get their input.  You also want them to buy in to the solution so that they will execute the changes, rather than being resentful that another stupid change was forced down their throat.

Unhappy customers are typically not caused by bad employees

Unhappy customers are typically a management problem, not an employee problem.  You may have a story of a bad employee, but most employees want to do their job well and often they are prevented by management policy from doing so.  That is why it is so important to work with employees to improve things rather than blame employees for problems.  Create policies that empower employees to do their jobs well rather than restricting them.

Above all, learn from and avoid repeating customer problems

Nothing is more agravating than having a customer problem that happens over and over again.  It wastes time and resources to deal with unhappy customers, and often loses valuable customers that you worked hard to attain.  Make sure that these problems do not happen more than once.