We've all had to deal with unhappy customers, whatever our line of work. If you're an agency PR pro, you have to respond to unsatisfied clients from time to time. If you're an in-house PR or marketing pro, perhaps you've seen customer dissatisfaction played out in public on Twitter. It can be disheartening for sure, but managing other people's disappointment is one of those skills that can be developed quickly, and the process itself can teach you a lot about yourself.
These recommendations for managing unhappy customers don't apply to all situations, but they can be easily adapted to most situations.
1. If a customer complains about your product or service in a social post, go beyond taking it offline—which usually means just shuttling a person to email—and ask the customer to send you an email with their phone number. You'd be sending a clear message that you take the complaint seriously.
2. If a customer complains about your product or service in an email, immediately suggest a time to talk by phone. Again, suggesting a phone call is a mark of seriousness and respect. Using the phone also minimizes the possibility of anger escalating or misunderstandings percolating.
3. If you speak to the customer by phone, refrain from interruptions. If you interrupt the customer in mid-sentence you're, in effect, telling her or him to shut up. Listen well; speak infrequently.
4. Once you've truly heard your customer out, take a couple of moments to consider the validity of the complaint. Did you or your company promise something that you didn't deliver? Or did the customer buy your product or service without paying attention to the PR or marketing messages around that product or service? Aggrieved customers can't be talked out of their emotions, but it's helpful for you to make a considered judgment call. If you feel the complaint is totally without justification then an apology may not be in order, but that doesn't mean your job is done (see No. 6).
5. If the complaint if valid, then you owe the customer an apology and gratitude for helping you to improve your product or service. Express them both succinctly and professionally.
6. Offer the customer something special. It doesn't necessarily have to be a refund. The customer is already interested in what your brand has to offer. Provide a couple of options—just don't let one of them be a coffee mug with your company logo.
You'll find that the conversation alone is something special, for you and the customer. It's full-on communication—and that's where the self-knowledge comes in.
—Steve Goldstein, editorial director, PR News