Making Unhappy Customers Happy

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.

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 scrutinized 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 convert any unhappy customers into happy ones.

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8 thoughts on “Making Unhappy Customers Happy

  1. I agree that dealing with unhappy customers’ complaints is a valid tactic.

    However, the problem is subtle. If you have a sales system in your business, it’s the happy customers you never get to see. They glide through your system without any glitch – so you never get to see them!

    All the while, you’re worrying about your bad customers.

    Now there’s nothing wrong in this, but are these guys driving the profits you need? Your good customers will drive 4x the profits of your ordinary customer. If not more.

    And you are wasting valuable resources on people who might – or might not – buy? As I say, this is fair enough, but please do not spend all your time doing this. Dealing with objections is a powerful part of your sales funnel, your sales process, but it should be to deter those people WHO WILL NEVER BUY.

    There are bad customers and bad customers. Some have a genuine complaint, some of them just want to complain. The difference is whether they’ve already bought (or are the kind who might).

    Knowing the difference will tell you which one you should avoid dealing with, and which one to welcome.

  2. I agree with Gemma, but, she appears to only be addressing one type of “unhappy customer” situation. I am fairly sure she would agree it doesn’t apply to the following situation.

    In my setting working with the Veterans Health Administration in a Call Center we are in the “front lines”. We are the sales agent as well as the order taker, tech support and complaint department. We are the first contact and normally the most frequent contact a Veteran makes with the VA.

    Every single caller we deal with has earned the right to the best service we can give them. It doesn’t matter if they are old, hard of hearing and looking for someone to argue with or the 20 year old veteran just returning from the mountains or dessert with PTSD and does not trust anyone.

    My experience with the unhappy or difficult callers is that listening carefully and being able to judge when it may be finally time to stop listening and to start speaking is the first key. Start talking too soon and they will normally keep interupting you until they can get their story out. Until that happens you will never convince the caller that you care about them.

    The second key is to acknowlege what you have heard with a friendly tone of voice and tell them that you are glad you are able to be the one to answer their call, you are going to do everything in your power to help them solve their problem.

    The third key is to help them understand how we can work together to help prevent this (whatever has them upset) from happening again. Not placing the blame on them and not putting the blame on yourself unless it really was the call center’s fault.

    And it does not really matter to the caller wheither it was you or someone else who may have made the mistake so don’t waste your time trying to blame it on someone else.

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  7. Service Pros Are in the Business of Customer Happiness — Are You Delivering?

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