How to Turn an Unhappy Customer into your Biggest Advocate

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How to Turn an Unhappy Customer into your Biggest AdvocateEvery company has to deal with complaints. No matter how well trained your employees, how empowered they are to solve issues, someone, somewhere will be unhappy about something.

Now you can shrug your shoulders and take a ‘that’s life’ approach, or you can take proactive steps to turn the situation around.

Take proactive steps

There are two reasons why we recommend the second approach. Firstly, it’s much cheaper to retain your existing customers than find new ones. And it won’t be just one lost customer but several, all the people they tell about their experience, either face to face – current thinking is they’ll probably tell about ten people – or on social media where the numbers are, well, BIG.

But perhaps more importantly, deal with a complaint well, and something wonderful happens. That unhappy, grumpy, shouty customer can turn into your most glowing advocate – someone who evangelises about what a marvellous company you are to deal with. And someone who ultimately spends MORE with you than they might have done otherwise.

It’s hard to imagine that happening when you have someone ranting at you down the phone or over the counter, so what steps can you take to put that process in motion? And how should you coach your team to deal with complaints?

How to deal with complaints

  1. Stay calm and let the customer express their anger. If it’s got to the point where the customer has confronted you, they are probably quite wound up and upset. It’s not aimed at you personally, remember that and let them vent their frustrations. Ensure your team understands that when dealing with unhappy customers, it is the company they are annoyed with, not the individual who happens to be on the receiving end of their wrath.
  2. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Once that initial outpouring of frustration is over, you can start to get to the heart of the real problem. Ask the customer relevant questions, but importantly, make sure you listen to their answers. Only by really understanding their concerns can you come up with a solution.
  3. Empathise with the customer. You want to show the customer you are on their side. Avoid any ‘jobsworth’ phrases such as ‘that’s in our terms and conditions’. Instead, apologise without assigning blame.   “I’m sorry you are feeling so frustrated, let me see how I can put things right” is the sort of approach you should be aiming for.
  4. Find a resolution. Platitudes are not enough in themselves. This is where staff empowerment is so important. If your team can’t use their problem-solving skills to come up with a real solution, you won’t turn the situation around. Give your team a set of guidelines by all means, but also let them know they are free to go outside of those guidelines when the circumstances make it sensible to do so.
  5. Agree with the customer what you will do. Outline the actions you will take, and the timescales they will happen in. One person needs to be accountable for making sure that all the necessary steps happen. It’s at this point that the magic can happen. Do everything within your power to EXCEED what you have agreed and what your customer now expects. Find ways to delight them and overdeliver on your promises
  6. Check back that they are now happy – a crucial step. Once the issue has been resolved, someone needs to make contact with the customer and check that all is well. At this point, you can thank the customer for their patience and for flagging up the problem to you.

It’s always worth the effort

Handling unhappy customers is not always easy but is almost always worth the effort.  Research from marketing content expert Jay Baer shows that answering complaints can result in up to a 25% boost in advocacy.

You can either let negative feedback to get you down, or you can use it to learn valuable lessons, to regenerate your processes, excite your team, energise your business and create advocates for your organisation.  We know which option sounds better to us!


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