negative customer experienceYou strive to provide top of the line customer service at all times. With your call center reps trained and top of the line CRM software in place, it seems foolproof. Still, sometimes you can’t win them all. Whether it’s a cranky customer or poor handling on the part of your employee, there may be a time when you’ll have to apologize to a once-loyal customer to keep their business and word of mouth marketing.

While most unhappy customers will be pleased with a simple discount, sometimes it’s beneficial to address the problem to redeem their loyalty, instead of just getting a single purchase. Lee Resource Inc. found that attracting a new customer costs 5 times as much as keeping a current one, so consider these five steps for handling your next overly-disgruntled employee.

Address the Problem

Your first step in following up a negative interaction is to address the issue instead of sweeping it under the carpet. Especially for customers who have been brand advocates for a long time – you want to make sure they know you are aware of what happened. There are a number of tactics you can use here.

  • Phone call – While this would be time consuming for every angry customer, it may be necessary in an escalated situation. It shows you know what’s going on, and are ready to remedy the issue.
  • Email – A personalized email can go a long way for an unhappy customer. If you are able to win them over, you can be sure they’ll be telling all their friends about the superior customer service. suggests, “… word of mouth is the source of 20% to 75% of all new customers!”

Be Apologetic

The next best thing to following up is being sorry – very sorry. Many customer service reps are known for phrases such as, “I’m sorry you feel we didn’t come through…” “My apologies for not meeting your expectations…” However, these phrases keep blame on the customers, taking it away from the company who did wrong. When presenting your apology, remember two tips.

  • Use concrete verbiage: Avoid words like feel, approximately, and apparently. Take the blame completely – the customer is always right.
  • Use personal pronouns: Instead of opting for “you,” use pronouns that put the emphasis on yourself and the company: I, we, us.

Show Appreciation

Regardless of how wrong, disrespectful or rude the customer was, you appreciate them because they are your bread and butter. Without customers you have nothing – so show them that. The White House Office of Consumer Affairs says that almost 13% of unhappy customers will share their dissatisfaction with more than 20 people. You appreciate them, they appreciate you.

Get Their Solution

The whole process should be all about the customer. Therefore, before throwing a bunch of coupons and discounts at the customer, be sure to find out what they would like to see happen. Perhaps a simple refund will be just what they need to stay aboard. Inquire about their ideal solution, but be prepared to make an on the spot decision.

Get Creative with Your Resolution

At this point, there are two things that can happen:  1. You are happy with their ideal solution, give it to them, and are done with the whole ordeal; 2. You have to modify what they want based on what you can actually give. Regardless of whether you can provide them with what they want or need to come up with your own solution, be sure to do it all the way.

  • Give them more: Don’t just give them what they want – give them more. They want a refund? Offer coupons for the future, enroll them in your loyalty programs; make sure they leave the conversation more than content.
  • Exclusivity: Customers want to feel special – offer them discounts not given to other customers, give them access to pre-sale announcements, etc.

Handling a bad customer service situation well is integral to having a successful business. Without your customers you have nothing – so keeping them happy is of utmost importance. When an employee slips up, or the customer is beyond pleasing, it’s time to follow up, and make it right.

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