Managing dissatisfied customers

It is impossible to please everyone. But you should learn how to handle complaints efficiently and quickly. This will prevent loss of customers.

Dissatisfied customers should be handled with respect and courtesy. You should encourage feedback even if it is negative. Research shows that for each person voicing his or her grievances, there are 26 other dissatisfied customers who say nothing but do not come back. Some will complain to their friends, however, or—worse—on social networks, which will generate huge negative publicity. Here is how to avoid this situation:

  • Consider setting aside an area within the store for handling customer complaints, clearly marked as such. An e-mail address or hotline number on the website should allow problems to be reported quickly and easily.
  • Customers often do not dare to express their dissatisfaction, particularly if they know the director of the SME. The director should be one step ahead by asking for feedback.
  • It is always more effective to have this type of discussion face to face or by telephone rather than by e-mail.
  • Employees often represent a valuable source of information about which customers are not happy and why.
  • An entrepreneur should be able to read non-verbal signs of dissatisfaction, e.g. customers pointing out that things are not what they used to be, often returning products, no longer paying compliments, etc.

Responding to a complaint

The most frequent complaints are about price, poor customer service or ineffective handling of complaints. Here is how to address these:

  • Always begin by validating the opinion of the person you are dealing with, using a phrase like, “I understand your point of view”. Avoid contradicting them from the outset, which will aggravate the situation.
  • Listen to their complaint through to the very end: do not interrupt them, try to make excuses or blame a third party. Show empathy.
  • Above all, do not make them fill out a complaint form, which gives the impression that the problem occurs on a regular basis.
  • If the company is in the wrong, suggest an exchange or refund immediately and apologize. To really repair the relationship, you can add a discount on the next purchase or another form of compensation (a small gift, for example).
  • If responsibility for the error is not clear, promise to look into the matter as promptly as possible and guarantee that the company will get back to the customer within 24 or 48 hours.
  • Before discussions start, find out how far the company is prepared to go and what its limits are. Sometimes, it can be worthwhile to agree with the customer, even if they are wrong, as this will turn them into a loyal customer.
  • Propose a customer follow-up: contact them again to find out if they are satisfied with the exchange or refund and the service they have received.
  • Once the complaint has been resolved, consider if it is worthwhile adjusting how you operate so that it does not happen again. If it is, you can notify the customer who triggered the change, which will also increase their satisfaction.

Winning back customers you have lost

When a customer turns away from the company, there are several ways of winning them back:

  • Contact them again to find out why they left and what you could have done to keep them. Sometimes, this simple gesture is enough.
  • Remind them of the advantages of your products or services and why they were interested in your product in the first place.
  • Propose a special offer or a different, extra service. You can also offer them a discount, but you then run the risk of them refusing to pay the full price in the future.
  • If they cite the advantages provided by a competitor, do not try and undercut that competitor, but try to highlight your own advantages instead.

Toxic customers

In some cases, it is not worth trying to win a customer back. Some customers are chronically dissatisfied or have unrealistic expectations. Trying to meet those expectations jeopardizes the financial stability of the company. It is better to let those individuals go and focus on loyal customers.

Source: Small Business Marketing Kit For Dummies, Barbara Findlay Schenck, John Wiley & Sons Inc, 2012.


Last modification 16.02.2020

Top of page