Unhappy_Customers_body.jpgBy Cathie Ericson.


Unhappy customers can sink your business. When word of mouth was king, we used the adage that one unhappy customer would tell 10 people about their experience. Today, customers have the ability to broadcast their opinions to unlimited numbers of people via social media and review sites.


And even if they don’t share their negative experience online, that one lost sale can translate into billions of lost revenue—an estimated $83 billion in fact, according to Business Insider’s Customer Service Report, which found that 60 percent of U.S. consumers have not completed an intended purchase based on a poor customer service experience.


“The customer might not always be right, but a savvy organization will work to help them feel as though they are right,” says consultant Elaine Allison, who helps corporations, government agencies, and schools improve their customer service.


Here are her top tips for handling an unhappy customer:


Use the "ask, don't tell” approach

When a customer is upset, the natural tendency for many employees is to tell them what went wrong or how their actions violated your policies. A better tactic, Allison says, is to investigate the root cause as a way to show your interest in their issue and your intention to fix it. She recommends asking questions such, as "Can I look into that for you?”, "What can I do for you?", or even “Can I get more details?” She says that even if the plight seems obvious, these questions show you are concerned.


Unhappy_Customers_PQ.jpgFind a way to say yes

When a customer is upset, he wants to hear the magic word, “yes,” rather than “no,” so find a way to incorporate it into your answer. “You might still be saying ‘no,’ to what they want, but by using the word ‘yes,’ they are going to feel more satisfied.” For example, you can say yes to a future discount, or yes to removing some portion of the cost of the product or service from the bill.


Look for a third way

There are many times when a company really can’t fix what’s wrong even after they’ve understood the reason a customer is unhappy. But it doesn’t have to be their way or the highway; often there is a third, mutually agreeable solution. “If you brainstorm enough, you can usually find a creative way to fix things to everyone’s satisfaction that is simple, free, or a minimal cost,” Allison says. Expert customer service people see a complaint as a challenge to find that third way. “They are always thinking ‘what else?’ even when they know the customer is wrong.”


Turn complaints into opportunities for continuous improvement

Customer service cultures that are on top of their game track, follow, and report their complaints, Allison says. They then feed the issues back into the organization to look for opportunities to improve. They also know that fixing a customer’s problem can ultimately make them even more satisfied than if they had received what they wanted in the first place. “It resonates to a customer when they see a company really hear them and take great lengths to fix the issue,” she says. “That is the story they will then share with their friends, family, and followers.” Allison says that the companies that will beat the competition are those that have a resolution culture and mindset.


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