I had a terrible experience with a vendor a couple weeks ago. Due to the actions of this vendor, I lost several customers. But, that is not why the experience was terrible. It was terrible solely because of how the vendor reacted when I asked him what had happened. He literally told me that his employees don’t make mistakes. I could not believe my ears! I even asked if he wouldn’t mind sending a couple of his “perfect” employees my way as it would make my job a lot easier. So, because this particular vendor lost my business forever, I thought of how I would have handled things differently. These are the three things I would have said instead.
- I am sorry.
Listen to your customer and let them speak until they are finished. Once you have had an opportunity to hear your customer out, apologize. Do it immediately and clearly. Literally say the words, “I am so sorry about that.” And don’t just say it, mean it. This can be tough because it is so natural for us to defend our business and our people. A lot of times, while a customer is complaining, I start thinking “is this one of those ‘crazy’ customers that complains about everything?” or “is this guy lying?” The truth is, it does not matter if the answer to either or both of those questions is “yes.” Don’t argue, don’t defend, just apologize. If you do this quickly and correctly, you will have time later to win your customer back. If you do not, kiss the customer and his 5 closest friends goodbye forever.
- I appreciate you telling me.
A lot of business owners like to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to bad news about their company or personnel. I am the opposite. I want to hear as much of the negative from my customers as possible because they are in the best position to give feedback. Also, if one customer is saying it, multiple customers are thinking it.
The sooner I hear about a mistake from a customer, the sooner I can fix the problem so that it doesn’t happen again. So when a customer tells me that we made a mistake, I make sure to let her know how much I appreciate her telling me. If I am able to save the customer, or if the customer chooses my company again in the future (see below), I want to make sure the customer feels comfortable telling me what they think about my company.
- I will be here when you need me.
After you sincerely apologize and let the customer know that you appreciate him, now is your time to win back your customer. But, here’s the catch- you might not win him back right then. And you have to be ok with that. Sometimes people need to take a break from one another and that applies to a customer/business relationship as well.
The way to properly do this is to say something like, “Hey John, we goofed on this and you have my word that I am going to get to the bottom of it. And honestly, I don’t blame you for wanting to move on. That being said, if you ever want to give me the chance to earn your business, I’ll give you 50% off your next service.” (or even better, give it to him for free.)
This takes practice, especially if you are dealing with a very upset customer. However, if you follow this process properly, you have a great chance of saving the customer. In some cases, you will save the customer immediately. In others, it might be a month or a year before the customer calls back. But I’ll tell you two things: first, the customer is not going to badmouth your business to all his friends, and second, he is not going to leave you a bunch of negative reviews online.
At the end of the day if a customer cancels after this, it may not feel like a victory, but there is no doubt that is exactly what it is.