Sep 19, 2020

You Ticked Off a Customer—Now What?

Pleasing everyone is impossible. Even if you sell the best products and offer amazing customer service, someone is bound to get upset about something related to your business. This anger could stem from a valid reason—an employee had a bad day and was rude—or it could be based on the personal preferences of the complaining customer. 

Either way, you need to start damage control before this angry customer destroys your business’s reputation. Take a deep breath and follow the tips below.

Get Each Side of the Story

First, try understanding the situation to its fullest. There are 3 sides to every story: yours, theirs, and the truth. Talk to the customer to get as much information as possible about why they’re upset. 

Did an employee say something inappropriate? Did your team make a promise they couldn’t keep? Next, talk to the employees involved to hear their part. Is the customer being truthful? In some cases, you may need to get a 3rd opinion by checking security tapes or payment records. 

Having a clear picture of what actually happened will help you to develop a plan of action. If the customer is in the right, you can reach out to make amends. However, if the customer is in the wrong (or even downright lying), you may want to reconsider how you approach their anger.

The old saying “the customer is always right” is not always the case, and following that logic blindly can leave your employees feeling abandoned—leading to distrust and resentment with your staff.

Take Steps to De-Escalate the Situation 

You have 3 priorities when you upset a customer: solving the problem to the best of your ability, retaining the customer, and preventing the customer from spreading negativity about your business. 

It isn’t always possible to accomplish all 3. While you may solve the problem and the customer won’t post negatively about the situation, they may decide to avoid your brand in the future. 

You have a few options to de-escalate the situation:

You will likely choose multiple de-escalation options. For example, you may apologize and offer a full refund, or provide a refund and gift as a token of your appreciation. Some companies even have a de-escalation protocol based on the severity of the issue and the loss to the customer. 

There are some occasions where these offers will not be enough. For example, a refund won’t make a bride happy if you lose her wedding photos—you can’t redo her wedding day and save the lost memories. However, most people will be happy if you have a plan to “make good” on a bad situation. 

Be Prepared for the Customer to Go Public

Nowadays, few customer problems stay in-house. Today’s companies strive to please customers to help avoid costly negative reviews or social media-based company bad-mouthing. 

As you take steps to de-escalate the situation and calm your angry customer, prepare your team for social media backlash—even if your company was in the right. 

Consider drafting a few professional responses to potential accusations and make sure they are written calmly and with a clear head. The worst thing you can do is get into a public fight online with your customers. If you work with a marketing agency, alert them to the potential bad reviews and have a response planned. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Up for Yourself

If a dispute arises where you are in the right, don’t feel like you need to stay on the defensive. More brands are starting to stand up for themselves and clap back at customers who post negative reviews containing false or exaggerated information. 

For example, if a customer leaves a negative review during the COVID-19 pandemic because you asked them to wear a face mask and they refused, you’re in the right to reply and let other readers know that you won’t compromise the safety of your customers and expect everyone to follow your store policy. While you may have lost 1 customer, you could gain numerous others. 

If a customer leaves angry online reviews after you resolve the problem, draft a calm and professional response explaining the situation and how you resolved it. There is no reason for them to continue to defame you after you addressed the issue. 

Always be calm and professional in your response. People will judge your business based on your replies and determine who is right in the situation from behind their computers or smartphones. 

Furthermore, review sites like Yelp rarely get involved in customer-company disputes, but you can report a fake review or false information to the site. 

When you have an irate customer, the top priority should be de-escalation. Provide multiple solutions and help your customer reach a point where they are happy—at least happier than when they started. When this is not possible, have an emergency PR plan in place so you can save your public perception and prevent lost customers if your angry customer tries to go viral.

About the author

Derek Miller
Derek Miller
Derek Miller is a writer specializing in entrepreneurship, small business, and digital marketing. His work has featured in sites like Entrepreneur, GoDaddy, Score.org, and StartupCamp. He’s currently the CMO of Smack Apparel, the content guru at Great.com, and a marketing consultant for small businesses.

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