Helen Ross 31 January 2018 3 min read

Doing right by a wronged customer

I had a disappointing experience recently and it got me thinking about the nature of dissatisfied customers, and how you can turn their negative experience into an opportunity.


You know what they say – “a happy customer tells a friend, an unhappy customer tells the world.”


If you think about the companies you deal with every day, there are three main groups:


  • A few stand out ones (those that seriously go above and beyond every time)
  • The ones you’ve never had a problem with and probably couldn’t say much about either way.
  • And then there’s the ones where something has gone wrong.


The “something” could be a problem with shipping, with product, with service, or something else entirely. The exact nature of the problem is almost irrelevant. The unfortunate fact is something HAS gone wrong. This is where this group gets split into two:


  1. Those who know how to react when things go wrong,
  2. And those that don’t.


I went out to dinner at a fast food place recently and had a horrible experience. Now I’m not going to name names, but they primarily serve chicken… Luckily for me this particular chain had a survey attached to every receipt. Luckily for THEM, I bothered to give them feedback about my bad experience (96% of unhappy customers don’t!).  Then I went about my day.


About two days later I received a phone call from the store asking me for more information about my visit. In principle, an excellent thing to do (I’d checked the box that said I didn’t mind being contacted). However, this is where it went a bit MORE downhill. Unfortunately, whoever had been tasked with making the phone call hadn’t been given any kind of training in resolutions.


Now the purpose of today’s post is not to use my blogging powers for evil to name and shame the company. Instead I thought I’d take what they did wrong, and use it to give you a bit of a cheat sheet for how to do it right.


So let’s break this down into a few main steps:


  1. If you’ve asked customers to fill in a survey/questionnaire, make sure you read it in its entirety before you pick up the phone or start your response email.
    • As a customer it’s incredibly frustrating to reiterate a point you’ve already spelled out - especially when it’s because something has gone wrong.
  2. Reiterate your understanding of the customer’s problem back to them.
    • Be empathetic. Understand that to you it may seem minor, but for them it was frustrating enough to take time out of their day to contact you.
  3. Tell them how you’re going to do better.
    • An open and honest apology goes a long way. Explaining how you’re going to change things to prevent the same situation again goes further.
    • Caveat: do what you say you will. Don’t say you’re going to change processes if you won’t/can’t.
  4. Ask your superiors for any approvals you might need before contacting the customer.
    • If you’re calling/emailing to make amends, make sure you can deliver on your intention. Check in with any managers etc before you call so you know exactly what you can and cannot offer as reparation. If you think a customer is going to be receptive to $10 off their next order as reparation, make sure you can offer that promo code before picking up the phone.
  5. Be empathetic.
    • I know I’ve said this above but this is the biggest one for me and deserves reiterating. Having someone say “I’m sorry about that” when everything in their voice says they couldn’t care less is WORSE than no apology at all.


So how is this an opportunity? Think about those companies where something has gone wrong for you. Think about the ones who went out of their way to fix your problem, and those who didn’t seem to care. The ones who went out of their way and actively tried to make your negative experience a little bit less awful are the ones you remember. Not only that, but they’re the ones you RECOMMEND, because you know how they respond in a bind.


Smells like opportunity to me.


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