Painter to plumber and everything between, eventually you’re going to run into angry customers with lists of complaints. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though. If you know how to respond to customer complaints you can even use them to grow your business!
Customer complaints are always difficult to deal with but they don't have to be a problem for your business. In fact, one study showed that clients who had a problem that was addressed by the company, leading to a positive outcome, are more likely to go with the company again. Even more so than those who didn’t have a problem in the first place!
That means that handling customer complaints can not only help you maintain your business reputation but can actually increase your business...as long as you handle them well.
Like any project, however, a skilled business owner knows that handling customer complaints takes time, patience, and a few tools to keep in the proverbial toolbox. As always, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but getting to a good place with an upset client can ensure your business maintains a good reputation and even comes out looking better on the other side.
What to Stock in the Company Toolbox
Whether a hard copy or simply a process of information-gathering that everyone follows, you should have a form that you and your employees can physically or mentally fill out to make sure you’re getting all the information you need instead of getting flustered. Be sure to be patient with the client, and engage in some empathetic, active listening (try not to get defensive). Eventually, you should always fill out a hard copy of documentation so you can keep track of complaints and start to notice patterns over time.
Keep in mind that your employees can handle some complaints but there will probably be some cases where you should step in. Talk to your employees about when it’s time to say that the issue sounds important enough that they’d like the customer to talk to the owner/lead contractor/whatever. Have them fill you in so you can be prepared.
One tool often used in relationship counseling is the restatement, or reflective listening. As soon as the client is done explaining, ask if you can make sure you’ve got the story right. Then, restate to them in a calm tone what they just told you the problem was:
”Ok, Mr. Jones, let me make sure I’ve got this right. You made an appointment with us for 10:00 on a Monday morning, and no one from our company showed up for the meeting. You gave us a call around 10:45 and couldn’t reach the servicer, and he didn’t show up until 11:00, making you late for work, and he didn’t seem to care. Did I get that right?”
Make sure you go through the process until the client agrees that you’re on the same page, and then ask “is there anything else?”. It helps the client feel heard and validated.
You should always know how to apologize. Now, you don’t want to apologize for something that’s not your fault, but you should be able to say you’re sorry this situation made the client late to work, for instance. And of course, if it was your fault (or your company’s fault), absolutely recognize the wrongdoing and apologize sincerely. Genuine apologies bolster your honesty as a contractor.
How can you make the situation better? Is there something that you can go out and fix, or can you offer a discount on the next project? Don’t be afraid to ask the client how you can make it up to them - for the most part, they’re not looking for anything extravagant. Negotiate a solution that works for both of you.
What You Do In the Aftermath
After you’ve dealt with the client in the short-term and found a solution, there are ways to use the experience to your own benefit. If the problem was a big one or one that could have been avoided, use it as a learning opportunity for you and your company, especially if you’re getting the same complaint over and over. If there was a misunderstanding about the terms of a contract, maybe it’s time to revise the language you use or try better marketing. If you’re able to come to a good place, consider asking for a testimonial for your website to show that you care about your clients’ concerns.
No matter what, always, always follow up with a customer who was unhappy (and the ones who were happy, too). Make sure the solution is working for them and check-in again, just in case there’s anything else going on. Working with clients is always about the relationship, and following up goes a long way towards building trust (and getting return clients).
How do you deal with angry clients? Are there any solutions that have worked for you? Leave them in the comments below!