No entrepreneur wants his or her customers to be unhappy. Not to mention that it’s bad for business. We asked 17 entrepreneurs to share their fixes for handling irate customers.
1. Don’t React First
Listen and put yourself in his or her shoes–it makes a difference. Most people want to react, but the most important thing is to fully understand the problem and see it from the customer’s point of view before reacting. It’s easy to truly care about them. And once you truly care about them, it’s a lot easier to solve their problem. —Dan Price, Gravity Payments
2. Find the Median Between Needs
Customers are human beings. Ask yourself what you would really want in their situation. Find the median between what you need and what they need. You can call it a compromise, but in reality, it’s a sacrifice. For example, discounting their bill shows that you’re willing to share their pain. That goes a long way.
—Benji Rabhan, ConversionCore
3. Be on Their Team
We teach our customer service reps to always be on the same team as the customer. For example, a customer wants to return a product outside of the return policy window. Instead of saying, “Sorry, it’s too late to return the product,” we tell them to say, “It looks like this purchase is outside of the return window, but let me see what I can do for you.” Then the customer sees the rep as an ally–not as an enemy. —Laura Land, Accessory Export, LLC
4. Use Their Insight
Unhappy customers can be a goldmine for how you can improve your product or service. Listen to them, and see it as a gift. —Suzanne Smith, Social Impact Architects
5. Don’t Disagree Right Away
Never flat-out disagree with an unhappy customer. This will only make the conversation more adversarial. It’s far more constructive to be empathetic and agreeable with customers. Then you calm the customer down and also potentially learn from them. —Christopher Pruijsen, Afrostart.io
6. Let Them Lead to a Solution
I love having these types of tough conversations. They lead to solutions that make customers happy, which is always gratifying. They also might lead to solutions that can fix a problem you didn’t realize you had. It’s the best type of market feedback!
—Peter Awad, GoodBlogs
7. Make the Customer Whole
Apologize for and explain the situation, issue a refund (if applicable), and offer an additional benefit for sticking with you. Have a set strategy for specific problems, but personalize each response. Great customer service can turn unhappy customers into brand advocates; poor service does exactly the opposite. —Carlo Cisco, FoodFan
8. Tell Them They’re Right
When a customer is unhappy, the most important thing is for them to know they were heard. The best way to do this is to start by agreeing with them. After you establish that you understand them, they will be much more receptive to being flexible on how the issue is resolved. —Raoul Davis, Ascendant Group
9. Listen to Them
When there is a problem, the first thing you should do is listen and understand what happened from the customer’s perspective. Then ask the customer exactly what would make him or her happy. It’ll win them over for life. If you can give more than what the customer asks, then you will gain a major fan. You’ll also be surprised at how listening can benefit you personally. —Derek Capo, Next Step China
10. Apologize to Them
There is nothing more frustrating than hearing someone say, “I’m sorry if you have been inconvenienced.” Passive language makes it sound like the customer chose to be frustrated–not that you delivered a poor experience. Begin with “I’m sorry,” then move to “How can we make this up to you?” You’ll not only make that person happy, but you’ll also learn how to improve.
—Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches
11. Call Them
Every company has unhappy customers. A customer can and will mostly express his or her displeasure through email or by a review. Human contact is the best way to tackle the issue head-on. You’ll notice a customer may be more relaxed and open to reason on the phone. He or she is likely to be very appreciative when a higher-up or even the owner of a company takes the time to pick up the phone and call. —Pablo Palatnik, ShadesDaddy.com
12. Respond from the Top
To resolve problems, have your company’s CEO reach out directly to the customer. If the customer sees that the issue has been escalated to the top executive without having to ask for it, it will deliver the message that his or her satisfaction is a top priority.
—Robert J. Moore, RJMetrics
13. Evaluate their Expectations
When a customer is unhappy, there may be a very good reason for it. It’s important to take advantage of this situation. Ask the customer about the origin of his or her discontent. Then it is up to you to evaluate and improve the situation. Make sure to ask the customer about his or her expectations, too, to avoid any communication issues.
—Thomas Kjeldgaard, SplashPost
14. Make it Right
I’m not going to say that the customer is always right, but I feel like I need to always make it right. If we have to go above and beyond to reconcile a difference or repair hurt feelings, we’ll do it. I suggest asking a lot of questions. Ask why he or she is unhappy. What happened that made him or her feel that way, and what does he or she want you to do to about it? Often the customer just wants to be heard. —John Meyer, Lemon.ly
15. Ask One Question
One way I deal with an unhappy customer is by asking, “What exactly is happening or not happening for you?” Then, I give him or her all the time he needs to explain, despite my urge to end the conversation. I remain as quiet as possible, then use phrases such as, “I can tell you are very upset and will do my best to resolve the problem” whenever the customer demands a response. —Jay Wu, A Forever Recovery
16. Give Personalized Attention
When a customer has a problem, one thing that can be really irritating is going through contact forms and automated email and not being able to talk to a real person. As much as possible, give customers personalized attention so that they feel heard and have a positive experience in resolving their issue. —Matt Ehrlichman, Porch
17. Give Customers Validation
Acknowledge their unhappiness honestly, and make it clear that you’re working towards a clear and expedient solution. The only time things get contentious is when you’re unable to acknowledge the mistake that was made. A clear validation of the customer’s concern and a corrective plan usually to fix the issue. —Adam Cunningham, 87AM