Turning An Unhappy Client Around

by Lori Saitz on August 4, 2010

“In every complaint there is a request.”

An email with that quote appeared in my inbox just before I starting writing this article.

Last week…

a new client contacted me to let me know about a distressing situation caused by a mix up in packing slips. Her gift recipients had gotten their packages, but since the packing slips had someone else’s name on them, they doubted whether the gifts were really for them.

Her email went on to say that her boss wanted to know how this happened and they both needed reassurance that if they were to use my company again, it wouldn’t happen again.

Ugh! You can probably imagine my immediate feeling of being kicked in the stomach.

How would you handle a situation in which you clearly screwed up?

If you haven’t faced such a scenario yet, it’s only a matter of time because we’re human and it happens to the best of us. What you say and do next is the important thing.

First, I recommend treating a client problem as an emergency.

Perhaps not a “house on fire” emergency, but you need to respond quickly. A client is evaluating how important she is to you based in part on how fast you address her issue.

Make sure you start your conversation by showing some empathy. “Oh my gosh! That is horrible! I am so sorry you had to experience that!”

You can disarm an angry person by agreeing with her because she’s expecting you to be defensive.

Instead, you’re building rapport by empathizing with her plight. Overlook this crucial element in handling the situation at your own peril.

Act promptly but don’t respond so quickly that you don’t take a few minutes to research the situation and think carefully about what to say and how to say it.

Your relationship and future business is on the line here. Write down a few options and either offer the best one or give her a choice.

If you need time to look into what or how something happened, say that and give a timetable of when you will have an answer.

I proposed:

- writing apology notes to each of the gift recipients, and

- offered a credit to the client for use on a future order, should she decide to work with me again.

She was thrilled with my “prompt and sincere response” and with both ideas and claimed she would like to continue ordering in the future.

If you truly don’t know what to do or don’t know what you think the client wants you to do, ask her. “What would you like me to do? What do you think is fair?”

Sometimes she doesn’t know either or doesn’t necessarily want you to do anything.

Many times people primarily want to be heard, to vent, so listen.

Lastly, thank the client for sharing her concern with you. She’s given you a huge opportunity to create a loyal fan.

She could have just as easily walked away from your business without saying a word and you would have never known why.

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Image: dcmaster’s Flickrstream, Creative Commons

Lori Saitz is founder of Zen Rabbit Baking Company. She shares happiness by helping business people show appreciation for and give recognition to customers and employees with The Gratitude Cookie™. With an understanding of the value of creating strong connections and experiences, she supports clients in increasing customer loyalty, referrals and profits. Connect with Lori on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

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