Dealing with Unhappy Customers


Customer service is a vital part of every business.  While it is not possible to make every customer happy all the time, handling unhappy customers can be the difference between the success and failure of a business.  This article provides customer service tips for business owners, written by a fellow business owner with years of experience operating multiple small businesses.

Unhappy customers are a fact of life

Every business will have its share of unhappy customers.  That is true no matter how much care and attention the owner and employees spend to ensure that they are doing everything right.  Sometimes customers will be unhappy because they have unrealistic expectations for a product or service.  Other times, there are very legitimate reasons that the customer is displeased.  That can be due to a defective product, a poorly-performed service, or a problem with an employee.

How you deal with unhappy customers is what matters

When dealing with disgruntled customer, the first step is to listen to what the customer has to say.  That step is so important for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, and rather obviously, it allows you to hear the problem so that you can determine what to do.  Just as importantly it allows the customer to get the problem off their chest and feel like they are being heard.  Everyone wants to feel like they are being listened to, and just listening goes a long way to making the customer feel appreciated.

Once you have heard the customer, determine whether what needs to be done.  If there is a legitimate problem, fix the problem and give the customer some added benefit for their trouble.  The goodwill that will be produced by giving away a small amount of goods or services to make the customer happy is worthwhile from a business perspective.

If, however, the customer’s complaint is not a legitimate one, then the situation becomes more complex.  The old saying that “the customer is always right” does not actually tend to be a good approach to take.  Allowing a customer who is wrong to believe they are right can lead to a host of problems with that customer, other customers, and employees.  For example, if a fast food customer expects 5 mozzarella sticks in their order and becomes enraged when they find 4, but the proper number is and always has been 4, then it would not be wise to apologize and treat the situation as thought the business was in the wrong.  Doing so will only cause the customer to be upset again next time, while costing the business money.  At the same time, other customers who overhear will either expect more as well or will leave feeling shortchanged.  Perhaps just as harmful, employees will see that management tells them one thing but then publicly makes it their fault when they follow that exact instruction from management.

The solution in those situations is generally to nicely tell the customer why it is that there is no problem, but to do so in a way that doesn’t cause the customer to feel embarrassed.  Sympathize with the customer as to how there could have been confusion, and later privately praise the employees involved for following the instructions that they had previously been given.

Having a phone number that customers can call is key to good customer service

When it comes to customer complaints, it is best to field those complaint over the phone whenever possible.  That is because, as discussed above, being heard by a live person often makes a customer feel better.  Also, a customer who is able to be heard right away is less likely to post negative review of your business online or otherwise escalate the situation.

Some companies are open 24 hours a day and can field such calls with ease.  For the majority of businesses, that is simply not possible to do, and so there is a temptation to use voicemail.  That is generally unwise, as leaving a voicemail will not help the customer get the problem off their chest.  Instead, it will just further anger the customer, adding insult to injury.

A solution can be to use a virtual reception service.  Doing so will allow your customers – the happy and unhappy ones alike – to get a live person on the phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  You can even choose to act on vital messages after-hours if you so wish, without having to field every call yourself.

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