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Turning Unhappy Customers into Fans

The weatherman has the world’s easiest job. He can over promise and under deliver to his heart’s content and still keep his job. Other than a few unhappy school kids, no one gets upset when the predicted storm doesn’t live up to the hype.
He will live to predict the weather once again.

As small business owners, we don’t often get that second chance.

Making Mistakes


If you have a business it happens. You will over promise and under deliver. Maybe it is a special order that didn’t arrive in a timely fashion. Maybe it is a product or service that wasn’t as advertised. Maybe it was a bad day for one of your employees and the great customer service you advertise wasn’t there.

As the owner of a small business, the burden is on you to take care of that unhappy customer.

How do you handle those moments?

The best thing to do is say, “I’m sorry. We made a mistake.”

No matter whose fault it is, no matter that you did everything right but your vendor failed you, your shipping company goofed, or your employee was totally misunderstood – it is still your mistake. So own it.

The customer doesn’t care about all that other stuff, the excuses. She put her trust in you and you failed her. So say you’re sorry, admit you made a mistake, then go about trying to fix it. That’s all she wants.

An apology — An admission of guilt — A solution.

Making Amends

An apology changes the tone right away. She came in guns a blazing. I’m sorry extinguishes those flames. Most unhappy customers are satisfied with a simple “I’m sorry.” They come in angry, prepared to fight. But the apology stops them in their tracks, softens their demeanor. So say it first and mean it. Without the apology first, it is hard to have a meaningful conversation and find a solution.

An admission of guilt takes away her defensive posture. No matter who is to blame, you screwed up somewhere. At the very least, you didn’t meet her expectations. So admit you made a mistake and move on. Don’t make her have to defend her position. It only belittles the relationship and keeps her guard up.

A solution shows that you truly care. And you often don’t have to give away the world to find that solution. You can start by asking her how she would like the problem solved. Usually her solution is more than reasonable and far less costly than what you were planning to offer. And even when it isn’t, the act of solving the problem is what turns you from goat to hero.

Creating Fans

Customers are reasonable people. When they have a problem what they really want is to be heard and have their problem acknowledged. Do this and you turn an unhappy customer into one of your biggest fans.

In fact, the true difference between a store with good customer service and one with great customer service isn’t in how you deal with the happy customers. It’s how you handle the unhappy ones.

When you under deliver, give your customer an apology, an admission of guilt and a solution, and I promise the sun will come up tomorrow. Heck, I’m certain of it. My weatherman told me it would.

Phil Wrzesinski is president and owner of Toy House and Baby Too, one of the 25 Best Independent Stores in America in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin. In his spare time Phil helps other independent retailers to succeed. Read more about Phil’s thoughts for business at www.PhilsForum.com.
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