With holiday deadlines quickly approaching, businesses are feeling the mounting pressures of consumer demands for faster, cheaper, and perfect service. The slightest mishap can send your customers reeling in anger and frustration, as they scramble to repair an already overloaded channel of buy-it, send-it, get-it-now. Worst of all, with the advent of social media came the 24/7 customer megaphone, allowing even the tiniest hiccup to explode into reputation chaos.
So, what should you do when you are on the receiving end of an irate communication from a customer notifying you that the order, product, or service you gave them was inadequate, erroneous, or just plain ticked them off?
Here are 5 easy tips to help you keep your cool so at this end of this holiday season, you can kick your boots up and enjoy that hard-earned glass of milk and plate of cookies, in peace.
1. Respond Immediately. It’s much easier to mitigate impending disaster by responding quickly, concisely, and truthfully. The longer you put an issue off and let it fester, hoping it will resolve itself, the more likely it will tailspin and cause unnecessary frustration and drama.
2. Address the Issue as Personally as Possible.If you can meet face-to-face, do so. It may be a pain, but meeting someone in person will instantly communicate to them that their issue is worth your time and attention. Business conversations tend to be more civilized in person, whereas phone conversations can escalate into angry shouting matches, and emails can get downright nasty. Meeting in person will also give you the ability to observe facial expressions and body language, which can communicate more information than the words being spoken. If you cannot meet in person, schedule a video call. If those options aren’t feasible, pick up the phone. Do not draft an emotionally charged email, either in response to one they sent you first, or as a first line of attack. The tone and meaning behind a written communication can be wildly misconstrued, and should be your last resort.
3. Let Them Vent, Respectfully. Angry people want to be heard! They do not want to be interrupted, cut off, or told they are wrong (even if they are). Strive to remain quiet and calm while they air their parade-of-horribles, and allow them to finish before you chime in. They will eventually run out of things to say. This does not mean that you should become their emotional punching bag. If at any point they cross a line and become vulgar or violent, postpone the interaction until they have cooled off and can communicate respectfully. When you do respond, be polite and thoughtful. Make it clear that you have heard them, and want to make things right.
4. Create a Solution.At the core of every customer issue is conflict, and where there is conflict, there is opportunity for negotiation. You are attempting to correct a wrong, or a perceived wrong, in a way that is acceptable to both parties. An angry customer may lose sight of the goal of fixing the problem and instead get hung up on complaining and feeling entitled to complain, so it’s your job to re-direct the conversation to be productive and solution oriented. First make sure you have correctly understood the key issue, and then focus on hashing out a resolution. You will likely find that once the party realizes they have an opportunity to negotiate and receive something of value, the dialogue will change from being anger-fueled to being constructive and goal-driven. Be sure not to over-promise out of guilt, and only negotiate a resolution that is manageable, and fair.
5. Document, and Follow Up.Keep all documentation of the issue, the proposed resolution, and your follow-up correspondence. If the communication takes place primarily in person or via phone, be sure to send a written outline of your understanding and action plan. Reach out and confirm that you have held up your end of the bargain, and the issue is mutually considered to be closed.
Hopefully, by following the above steps you have achieved customer satisfaction damage control. If, however, at any point you sense that the issue could be unresolved and sneak back up to haunt you, be sure to notify a seasoned business attorney immediately. A good business attorney can step in quickly and help you navigate the issue, protect your business, and alleviate your concerns so you can get back to conducting business with confidence.
Happy Holidays from Tarshus Law Firm!
Andrea A. Tarshus, Esq. began Tarshus Law Firm @Tarshuslaw.com in 2015 to fill a void in the legal ecosystem: efficient, accessible, and fair in-house and General Counsel legal services for business owners. Her engagements regularly include business legal startup paperwork, negotiating and executing contracts, administering internal legal and operational controls, and creating legal documents that protect the company's best interests.
This article is intended to be informational in nature, should not be relied upon by the reader without consultation with an attorney, and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and reader.