The old adage says “you can’t please everyone.”
However, when it comes to customer complaints, this is often one time you should try to set things right.
Not only that, but a customer complaint can be an excellent way to make your product or service better next time.
While the truth is that the customer may not always be right, a customer issue is almost always a chance to improve your business.
What can you learn from an unhappy customer, and how should you handle the situation?
I asked the entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council for their advice on how to deal with these issues, and what to take away from them.
What can you do when a customer complains about your product or service?
Assess the “weight” of the complaint
From the very beginning, try to weigh the severity of the issue.
While it is important to listen to all customer complaints, acknowledge that some customers will never truly be satisfied.
“Some customers might have a proclivity for complaining about trivial matters, while others might have legitimate problems that require fixing or an apology,” says Sathvik Tantry of FormSwift. “Assessing the frequency and weight of complaints is a must.”
Listen to any complaints, apologize, and do your best to rectify a customer’s problem, but understand that some customers may be experiencing greater issues than others.
This means that you’ll have to prioritize and determine the weight of each complaint you receive before you make a decision as to how to proceed.
Start a dialogue with the customer
We are all familiar with the idea of constructive criticism, but we generally think of it in the context of advice from a mentor or other higher up, rather than customers.
Can complaints be constructive?
Ty Morse of Songwhale says yes. “Consumer criticism is an excellent source of ideas to improve a product,” he says. “Instead of shying away from consumer complaints or getting defensive, respond personally to the customer and ask them to help you make the product better.”
Not only will this help you potentially make improvements to your products or services, it can create an open dialogue with your customers and strengthen the relationship.
“In some circumstances, you might even ask them to join your beta tests as you keep working to improve your product,” says Ty.
Answer personally, but don’t take it personally
Don’t take it to heart.
Addressing a customer’s concerns in a personalized manner doesn’t have to mean taking all criticism too personally.
“We try not to put too much stock into a single customer complaint, and we remind ourselves that their dissatisfaction with our product or company doesn’t reflect on us as individuals,” says Alexander Moore of Boomerang.
Do your best to fix a customer issue without letting their unhappiness get to you personally. While this is easier said than done, dealing with the situation in a professional manner and not taking the criticism personally may enable you to turn the situation around—and potentially win back an unhappy customer.
“Addressing the customer’s complaint by solving the issue or at least providing an explanation has turned angry customers into evangelists for us,” says Alexander.
Use a complaint as an opportunity to gain a lifelong customer
Like Alexander mentioned, sometimes fixing an issue for a customer can turn them into your biggest advocate.
While it may cause you a minor inconvenience upfront, oftentimes you’ll be rewarded with a loyal fan.
“When there is an issue, we go above and beyond to not only rectify the situation, but to convert that person to a lifelong customer,” explains Marc Lobliner of MTS Nutrition and TigerFitness.
While he does acknowledge that, depending on the situation, this may mean your business taking a small loss, “a small financial loss in the present is worth the lifelong customer and their friends and family.”
Keep a record of your complaints
Your customer complaints should teach you something.
“Bill Gates once said, ‘Your unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning,’” notes Andy Karuza of Brandbuddee. While it’s great to fix an issue when it arises, if the same issue continues to pop up, this may be symptomatic of a larger problem.
Dave Nevogt of Hubstaff adds: “If the same thing keeps coming up again, the issue should be taken seriously. The same complaint from many different people means that you’re the source of the problem, not them.”
How can you handle an issue that keeps reoccurring? First of all, record all complaints; this way, you’ll be able to spot trends.
“It’s important to keep detailed records of these complaints to help you improve your product or service,” says Andy. “You will want to be able to look back and identify consistent complaints that need to be resolved.”
Secondly, once a reoccurring issue has been spotted, work on fixing it, or potentially adapting the way you frame your product or service to clients.
“Either fix what’s wrong with your product or service, or do a better job of explaining it so customers have realistic expectations,” says David.
Thank customers who voice their complaints
“Customer complaints are extremely valuable in making sure that your product is aligning with customer needs,” says Laura Roeder of MeetEdgar, who encourages business owners to actually thank customers who speak out about areas of dissatisfaction.
“Almost all customers will just leave without telling you why or stay silently unhappy, so customers who actually take the time to speak up should be deeply appreciated,” says Laura. “We let our customers know that their opinion has been heard and is important to us in shaping the future of our software.”
Listen without bias
It can be tempting to fight back against a critical attack; after all, you probably think your product or service works wonderfully.
It’s natural to feel a bit hurt, but try not to let your bias affect how you respond to a customer. “Nothing is worse than an immovable force that prevents understanding the issue, i.e. our biases,” says Robert Smith of Infofree.
However, if you can set your personal biases aside momentarily, you will be able to get a better understanding of your customer’s position.
“Once the facts are laid out, you will understand how and why your customer has issues with your product or service and be able to respond effectively,” says Robert. “Feedback is a great way to understand a different point of view.”
Do whatever it takes
Is your customer demanding a full refund, or a free product?
Robert De Los Santos of Sky High Party Rentals recommends doing whatever it takes to keep a customer.
“Ask the customer how you can make things right, and do whatever you can (within reason) to accommodate that request, even if it means taking a slight loss,” he advises.
Why go to so much trouble?
In addition to learning from complaints and maybe creating a lifelong, loyal fan, fixing a situation for an unhappy customer can save your online reputation, and prevent bad word-of-mouth.
“One negative review on social media can wreak havoc on your brand’s reputation. As the saying goes, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’” says Robert.
Showing your customers how committed you are to ensuring their happiness with your product or service can leave a lasting impression.
“To really show how well you pride yourself on customer service, field a complaint and handle it with the utmost care,” suggests Mark Samuel of Fitmark. “Resolve it quickly, and turn that complaint into a success story. Learning how to do that is priceless.”