This post is sponsored by the MightyCall virtual phone system, helping small businesses around the country communicate crystal clear with their customers.
In business, mistakes will happen. You’ll make them and your customers will too. The main factor in many of these situations will simply be miscommunication. No matter how clearly you try to get your ideas and brand across, some will misinterpret it. Hanlon’s razor, which notes “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance,” perfectly encapsulates that reality.
So, when these situations inevitably arise, what can you do to mitigate the damage and even satisfy the customer? If your company is lucky enough to spot a mistake before a customer, correct it and let the customer know before it causes trouble, maybe even comping them a small something as a sign of good faith.
Luck does not normally grant entrepreneurs these opportunities however; normally, angry customers come knocking at the door. Having someone either accuse you of incompetence or shout at you is obviously disconcerting, but if you keep your calm and follow these broad steps, you’ll be able to turn customer miscommunications into customer success stories.
When business gurus discuss this kind of conflict resolution, they often say that empathy and putting yourself in the customer’s shoes is the way to start the reconciliation. That fails to properly digest how attune small business owners need to be to their markets and target audiences though; an entrepreneur should always be attuned to their customers.
That leaves listening as the true first step in this process. Many displeased customers will need to vent and you should allow them to do it, respectfully. If a customer ever begins to act inappropriately or say offensive things, you have the right to shut them down for the time being and insist they conduct themselves in a way befitting of an adult.
Those situations are rare however, so generally you simply need to truly listen to the customer, avoiding the urge to think of counterarguments and excuses. You should be able to repeat everything the customer said back to them, so you need to focus and keep a clear mind.
Ask Clarifying Questions
Once the customer seems to have let everything out, it’s your turn to speak. Regardless, that doesn’t mean that you need to defend your honor or try to make them see some kind of logic—acting sanctimoniously will not help you keep a customer.
What to do instead is ask clarifying questions, and if the customer is particularly aggravated, note that you understand you’re repeating things but need to clarify details. If the customer is right, you will likely already realize that; if the customer is wrong, asking non-leading and innocuous questions may help them see where they erred.
Some additional follow-up questions, no matter who is right, will also help pave the way forward.
Apologize and Offer Them Options
Even if a customer is in the wrong, there was still likely some miscommunication on your company’s part, so swallow some pride and apologize that the disruption/problem happened.
Do not make excuses. You can highlight where the problem occurred, but you shouldn’t be hammering why it occurred. Customers just want the product or service they paid for—most would love to avoid these miscommunications altogether as well.
Depending on how easy the solution is, you can either tell the customer what the solution is and how it will be implemented or ask them what they’d like, either in the approach to the solution or something extra as an apology. Giving a customer control of the decision, or at least the illusion of control, will make many people feel like they’ve been heard and will leave a positive memory of the interaction.
Don’t worry about outrageous demands, most people are sensible and will not try to bleed you dry; if someone does however, don’t be afraid to say no—you don’t need to hand over the keys to the company over a mistake with a single customer.
Hopefully the problem was fixed and the customer left happy, but that isn’t the end of the interaction. Make sure to follow-up with them a few weeks later to ensure everything is going smoothly. A small gesture like that goes a long way in people’s minds.
Even if the customer was wrong, you will learn and become a better company from these interactions. The only scoreboard in business is the money you make.
Of course, the best way to keep your business running healthily and efficiently is to have tools in place, such as MightyCall, that constantly keep you on the same page as your customers and staff, helping to reduce the number of times these miscommunications occur at all.