Entrepreneurs are one of the most misunderstood people in the world.

On one hand, they provide goods and services to create a healthy flow of cash within their communities. Thanks to local business owners, people can get jobs to sustain their lifestyles. But on the other hand, they are typically seen as money-hungry entities that would do anything to make a profit – even at the expense of the customer.

Although there might be some bad apples out there, most businesses genuinely want to serve their localities. The problem is, they don’t know how to respond well to customer complaints. Their efforts seem insincere or shallow, creating friction between them and the buyer. If not remedied, this could lead to more than lost revenue.

In real life, people usually prepare a bit before going on a date. In this case, think of unhappy customers as unsatisfied first dates. On your second meeting, make sure to woo them back to your side.

No tricks, no rules: just you and your customer. Here are five suggestions to get you started.

1. Act Fast

One of the main reasons unhappy customers become irate customers is because they are being made to wait. If at all possible, act quickly when responding to complaints.

  • Make sure contact details and operating hours are correct and updated on your website.
  • On your online contact form, state a reasonable time frame for answering queries (i.e. 24 hours or two business days) to set customer’s expectations.
  • Have someone ready to answer phone calls during business hours.
  • Give people your full attention once they state their dilemma.
  • Acknowledge that you understand the real problem by mirroring statements (“I understand that you’re calling about the defective product”).

If you are making them wait, especially if you need to put them on hold, provide a reason WHY. Treat your customers like you treat your time: with utmost respect.

2. Own Up and Apologize

Aside from “please” and “thank you”, customers love it whenever businesses say “I’m sorry” and “we’ll take care of it”.

Nothing is perfect in this world. Even the biggest companies make mistakes. What’s important is how you find ways to fix it. Owning up to your responsibility is one of the magic words that customers want to hear. If it’s going to take longer, be sure to keep them updated (see tip #1) and set clear expectations.

When owning up to your error, empathize but NEVER sound desperate! As an entrepreneur, you’re a natural problem-solver; so you should be able to deal with complaints in a fast and professional manner without losing confidence in your product or services. Remember: no one likes a clingy person.

3. Offer an Incentive

If your partner is mad at you, do you buy them little gifts to show you want to make up for your mistake? It’s the same for unhappy customers.

Depending on the severity of the problem, sometimes, an apology is not enough. But don’t worry! The right incentives coupled with a clear action can do the trick.

In the example above, imagine that someone is calling about a damaged product that was delivered to them. You may either a) replace the merchandise, OR b) refund the money. If the customer is still unhappy, try incentives like free product samples or a voucher for their favorite items in your shop. You can get an idea from a customer’s wish list or their abandoned shopping cart.

Incentives don’t need to be expensive, and they’re not required every time you handle a complaint. However, it’s nice to have them on hand just in case you want to make someone’s day brighter.

4. Refer a Partner

Occasionally, things don’t work out no matter how much you want to make someone happy. It’s the same with business dealings. In these rare circumstances, your efforts are not enough and there’s no other option but to let the customer go. However, you still have the choice of letting him walk away happy – or in an even worse mood than before.

Here’s where your business network will come in handy. If you have partnerships, simply send your customer their way. It may seem like you’re losing money, but this strategy benefits because:

  • Similar businesses will appreciate your gesture. This in turn will create long-lasting bonds and foster mutual feelings of trust.
  • Customers will feel that you have their best interests at heart – even if it means they won’t be doing business with you.

As you were so helpful, they might consider you in the future and even refer you to friends!

5. Educate Your Team

Don’t stop with simply answering complaints. Every experience is an opportunity to learn and to grow; so treat this event as a way to gain more knowledge about how to handle your business and your unhappy customers.

  • Take down notes on what went wrong and how you could make it better.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask feedback from your unhappy customers.
  • Gather your team and educate them on how to better handle client complaints.
  • Roll out scripts when needed. Don’t let your staff say things that will further worsen matters.

Train them to spot opportunities during the customer purchasing process to nip potential problems, while creating exemplary customer service experience.

In one amazing business story, a seven-year-old boy emailed LEGO regarding a replacement for a lost mini figure. Who would have thought that a customer service representative would be so magnanimous as to send not just another mini figure – but also accessories! The tale immediately became viral (which is good free advertising for LEGO), plus they made a customer for life.

Talk about hitting two birds with one stone.

Make Moments Matter

Don’t get disheartened whenever customers become unhappy. As with all relationships, it takes time, open communication, and the willingness to try again to make it work.

Just because your customers are complaining doesn’t mean they’re going to jump ship. They want solutions just as much as you want to keep them. So don’t lose hope!

Remember the two A’s of customer service: authenticity and action. Be sincere when offering help, then act fast to provide clear answers. Make each moment matter. Learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward.