It’s every small business owner’s worst nightmare – an irate customer who has gone public and put their grievances out on the Internet for all your other customers to see. It takes years to build a reputation but, and particularly in this global, digital age, just seconds to destroy one. So how do you deal with angry customers online? Here are a few top tips to coping with this particular situation.
#1 – Empathize with your customer
They may have a valid grievance such as malfunctioning software or faulty goods, so before you get too defensive find out exactly what the problem is and why your customer is so upset. Put yourself in their place and think how you would feel if you were the disappointed, upset or angry customer.
#2 – Don’t get into a ‘blame game’ scenario
Rather than focusing on who is to blame for your customer’s poor experience, concentrate on rectifying the situation.
#3 – Go the extra mile to rectify things
A single angry customer can cause havoc to your reputation online, so make sure you go the extra mile to get things right. Don’t let that last bad experience be the thing that your customer remembers – make sure that they remember how you went out of your way to make the situation better for them.
#4 – Don’t engage in an online argument
Nobody likes to see a public argument between a customer and a business, so keep it private. While you may want to defend your public reputation, an online confrontation can actually do more harm than good. So get the customer’s contact details and get in touch with them personally.
#5 – Switch mediums
Online arguments give customers a certain degree of anonymity, so switching mediums can be a good tactic that engages on a more personal level. If you have their contact details then call them on the phone, or write them a letter. It can be much easier to diffuse a situation by actually speaking to the person, rather than just relying on online responses.
#6 – Make your angry customer your advocate
Sometimes, once a situation has been resolved the original offended party can have developed a much higher estimation of your business than before. They can, in fact, turn into an advocate for your company, but it will need to be as a result of investment in time and effort on your part to resolve the original dispute to their satisfaction in the first place.
#7 – Don’t leave a problem hanging
In today’s business world, customers want an instant response to their grievance, so make sure you don’t leave them waiting for a response.
#8 – Go public
While some problems need to be sorted privately, there are times when you need to go public. Never simply ignore a complaint or delete it, as this looks as if you don’t care about your customer’s opinions. Take ownership of the situation and address it in such a way that your customers can see your reaction and how you are trying to rectify the problem, particularly if it’s a complaint that comes from more than one customer, such as faulty software or a problem with a product.
#9 – ‘I’m sorry…’
Two words that can be very hard to say – I’m sorry. Admit your mistakes and apologise for them, but ensure that your apology is genuine and doesn’t sound flippant or contrite. Those two words may be all it takes to turn a negative situation into a positive one.
#10 – Meet your customer’s demands
If a very angry customer wants a refund, replacement or to talk to someone further up the chain of command, then be flexible and give them what they want. This isn’t a ‘payoff’ as such, but a minor inconvenience now could turn an irate customer into a happy one very quickly and easily.
#11 – NEVER Ignore a complaint
Do everything you can to rectify the situation and never, ever ignore an angry customer. Social networking means that an unresolved issue can fester and then be passed on by your customer in bad reviews or customer feedback.
#12 – Honesty is the best policy
Be honest with the customer – if you’ve made a mistake then admit it. Don’t trot out a ‘standard’ apology, as this can antagonize the customer even more. Make sure your apology is genuine, that your response is personalized and that the outcome is resolved.
#13 – Trust your gut instinct
Sometimes a complaint is merely an attempt to get ‘something for nothing’. If you suspect that the complaint isn’t genuine, trust your gut instinct and confront the customer without turning it into a blame-game scenario. Tread carefully though – if the customer has a genuine complaint then a wrong step at this point could make you look as if you don’t care about your customers. However, if the complaint is false, then deal with it quickly before the malaise spreads and other customers see it as an opportunity to grab ‘something for nothing’ for themselves!
#14 – Walk away
If all else fails, simply refund the customer, wish them all the best and walk away from the situation. Concentrate on finding customers who are the right ‘fit’ for your business, rather than trying to please everyone all the time.
Carlo Pandian is a freelance blogger on business, technology and communication. He also writes tutorials on Intuit QuickBooks Online accounting software and loves sharing business tips for small business owners.