You can’t please everybody. Some days, in fact, it seems like you can’t please anybody. The paint color is a shade lighter than the customer thought it was going to be. There is a squiggle in the upholstery seam that only the customer can feel. The shelf is higher on one side than it is on the other—you can’t see it, but the customer can. How do you handle impossible, irrational complaints? (No, a slap upside the head is not a viable solution.)
The first step in handling a complaint—rational or otherwise—is to hear the customer out. Listening is the most important skill in customer relations, so remember the first rule: you can’t listen if you are talking! Let the customer talk first. Don’t pounce on what they say by trying to give them an answer before they’re finished. A remarkable number of complaining customers just want someone to listen to their problems, so learn to offer that particular small service automatically.
Is the customer always right? No, but they should never be told flat out that they’re wrong, either. Soften it a little by using phrases like
- “I can see why you feel that way…”
- “Let me look at that again…”
- “I understand what you’re saying…”
Then make an adjustment if you can, or explain—politely and respectfully—why you can’t. It’s tough to generalize because complaints can vary from the frivolous to the catastrophic, but the key factor in the customer relationship is the way you communicate with them about it.
You may have to shave your profit on a job to make the customer happy, but it doesn’t really happen all that often. There are people who try to get something for nothing, but if we start by assuming that the customer is trying to take advantage of us, we’re never going to resolve the problem to either their satisfaction or ours. In fact, the damage to our relationships with good customers far exceeds any loss we’ll experience by giving in to the unfair demands of the single crooked complainer.
Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides and Handbooks, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, and management strategy.