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As a business owner you have had on occasion a disgruntled customer. Our first thoughts are usually ‘how do I get rid of this whiner?’, but on second thoughts, you realize that this complaint can be a blessing. If you take the time to ask the disgruntled customer the details of how, who, what, when and where, you can gain invaluable insights into how your customers see and interact with your employees. Now, you can make necessary changes to eliminate those circumstances that lead to unhappy customers.

Here are some suggestions on how to handle a complaint.

1. Identify potential problem areas or employees.

The root cause of most customer related complaints are false expectations. If your customer believes they were promised something and they were denied (in their mind “cheated”) in getting or that the product would do more than it really does, you have a problem. It could have been something you or your employee said, or even failed to say. It could have been something you or your employees did or even didn’t do. Remember, language is a fickled form of communication. If you tell them it is BLUE, they may be thinking royal blue when in reality it is sky blue. Be specific. This can lead to your customer being confused and embarrassed which leads to retribution in the form of a complaint. Regardless, customers are usually unhappy because they expected something from you that you neglected to furnish. From their perspective, you need to make reparations. Use their complaint as a tool to make your business even better.

Most often, the root cause of their dissatisfaction is quite reasonable, and if that is the case, give your customer what they expected. To make them an ally, add more value to your actions, give an extra gift to your customer and a genuine thank you for bringing this issue to your attention. Human nature on your side, this will turn even the most dissatisfied complainer into an extremely loyal and perhaps even a lifetime (and happy) customer.

2. Remember, a complaining customer is a minority that represents a majority.

A customer who complains about something related to your business represents many others who probably had the same issue, but decided not to complain. Human nature dictates that the majority of your customers generally will ignore circumstances that warrant actions. Since most people prefer to avoid confrontation they leave and start doing business with one of your competitors. To avoid this, your customers regularly for their candid feedback. When you make adjustments pursuant to their feedback, always let them know what you did.

3. A complaint is often an opportunity to learn what your customers really need.

Would you rather guess what products or services your customers will buy or would you like to KNOW what they will buy? Ask them. Most customer complaints are based on failed expectations. They cannot buy the products or services as they expected.  Fortunately, a complaint is an excellent opportunity to assess how well you are actually meeting the needs of your customers. If more than one customer makes the same suggestion or complaint, you should take a closer look at the issue. Use the information to modify your sales message, your product or service, or the way you provide service and support. This can only improve your bottom line.

4. Again, human nature dictates that we will share or experiences disproportionately, more when we are wronged and less when we are rewarded.

Word of mouth advertising – be it good or bad – the most powerful form of advertising on the planet. The way you handle a customer complaint is not the end of the issue, it is the beginning. If you handle the complaint tactfully by listening and then responding to a complaint by fixing what was wrong, and send your customer off with a gift and a thank you – they will tell at least 10 other people about their experience. You have just taken advantage of a tremendous opportunity handed to you and it will benefit your business.

Although it may not result in more customers for you, keep in mind that this door swings both ways. If you fail to resolve a complaint, they will talk with even MORE people about it! This can cause great damage to your bottom line.

5. A customer is far more important to your business than a prospect.

Here is a personal example, I subscribed to a internet provider and took advantage of the low startup cost as an incentive to agree to use their services for one year. Their product and customer service was and is terrible. When the contract came to an end I met with their customer service to review their service (lack thereof) and told them that if they wanted to continue to serve me they needed to make concessions and come close to matching they incentives offered to new customers. They declined, I now have a new internet service provider. What did they do wrong. Their policy is to spend money capturing new customers at a significant discount and not give any incentives to existing customers to retain their ongoing revenue. Disastrous planning. It’s FAR less expensive (both financially and in many other ways) to keep an existing customer than it is to find a new one.

So, if you treat a complaining customer with respect, and offer genuine understanding, proving to them that – you will probably be able to keep them – especially if they believe that their concerns are appreciated and corrective actions will be taken immediately. You will want to contact the customer after you have completed the corrective actions as a follow up and tell your customer what actions you have taken as a result of their complaint or suggestion. I also suggest that you create an ongoing dialogue with  this customer and ‘deputize’ them to help you continue to improve your business.  When they receive this much attention from you, what will they think? Their feedback was appreciated – and for many customers – that makes all the difference – even if you fail to remedy the issue completely. A happy customer brings more customers.

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