Making Unhappy Customers Happy

Nov 26, 2014 • FeaturesManagementmanagementBill Pollock

Dealing with unhappy customers, making unhappy customers happy, and making happy customers even happier are all variations on the same theme – they typically differ only by degree. In fact, it may actually be easier to make unhappy customers happy, than to make happy customers even happier.  Strategies for GrowthSM  President Bill Pollock explains...

Unhappy customers will probably want to tell you why they are unhappy – whether you already know it or not. They will typically want to get their "two cents" in, even before they allow you to speak. This is fine; this is part of their venting, and they will expect you to stop and listen as they do so. As such, this will be the proper time for you to listen and observe.

In most cases, customers have already become unhappy even before their call is taken or the service technician arrives at the site. This may be because they waited too long for the call to be answered, the tech is running late, it is a repeat call for a recent or similar occurrence, or they have just come off of a "bad" service call with the company the time before. In any case, for the first few moments, you will probably be on the receiving end of a combination of both fair and unfair accusations, finger-pointing, and the like. As always, this will be the proper time to listen and observe – before you speak.

The best way to ultimately make unhappy customers happy is to convince them that you will be working together to resolve any problems, and that you are not really working in adversarial positions. The services world is too often segregated into an "us vs. them" scenario; but, the quicker you show your customers that you are on their side, the quicker you can make them happy.

Some guidelines for accomplishing this are:

  • Listen to what they have to say, and listen attentively – if they do not believe that you are paying full attention to their "story", they will probably become even less happy.
  • Accept full responsibility for resolving any open issues, and be gracious in accepting blame wherever it is justified – customers will not tolerate any finger-pointing; especially at themselves.
  • Explain, to the best of your knowledge, what happened, why it happened, what you plan to do about it, when it will be resolved, and how you will ensure that it never happens again (i.e., if it is something that you can help to prevent) – provide them with the guidance and assistance to prevent such occurrences from happening again (i.e., if it appears to have been something under their control).
  • Just as machines sometimes require TLC (i.e., tender loving care), so do humans – treat your customers with the levels of TLC and "hand holding" they require in order to “soothe” their apparent frustrations.
  • As soon as you make contact, let them know that you will be focused on resolving any open issues as quickly as possible, and to their satisfaction – let them know that you are working on their behalf, and that you will not be happy until they are completely satisfied.
  • If there are any open issues remaining as you are closing out the call, assure them that you will be following-up and getting back to them with a complete solution as soon as possible – and then, follow-up as you promised.

Customers only have reason to remain unhappy for as long as the problem remains in play. However, the greater the problem, the longer it will remain “top of mind”, and the longer it will serve to plague your overall relationship with the customer.

The worst time to have your next "bad" service call with the customer is immediately following your last “bad" service call with the customer. After one “bad” experience, your performance is likely to be more closely watched and scrutinised every successive time you are called back.

However, by following these guidelines, the prospects for your delivering "bad" service stand to be significantly lessened and, therefore, you will find that it is much easier both to keep your customers happy, as well as to convert any unhappy customers into happy ones.