Phone talking

Customer service is definitely the bedrock for most businesses, and you would be hard pushed to find a business owner that said anything different, but when things do go wrong, do you handle it as well as you could?

Let’s be honest, we have all been there when you have that nagging customer who has what you perceive to be an unreasonable complaint, and you think to yourself that working with the general public is fine as long as you don’t have to work with the general public.

There is no doubt that sometimes people expect too much from a business, become unreasonable when you offer what you think is a sensible response, or try to trash your business’s kudos by taking to social media. However, take a step back from the situation and try to be objective. Could you have handled it better? Did the customer have a reasonable gripe, even if they approached you in the wrong way about it?

The trouble is, we are all human – yes, even us business owners – and what many customers tend to forget is that you are trying your best to help even if they do not see it that way. Well, actually, I will rephrase that. Most customers with complaints do not forget that, they simply do not even think it.

What you are trying to do and how hard you are working to achieve it does not even come onto their radar. There is nothing in their mind in most cases where complaints are concerned other than ‘what’s in this for me?’ Sounds callous, I know, but that is the reality.

So when you are working 18 hour days, sweating bullets to try and get your business off the ground or to the next level of growth, nothing seems more personal than someone having a pop at you for something they perceive is wrong. Whether you agree with them or not, being objective can be hard to do.

But here is the thing, not being objective about it can be much more damaging to your business, so hard as it is, you need to try to not take complaints or criticism personally and react in a way that is more likely to inflame a situation than resolve it.

Business owners and entrepreneurs are, by their very nature, strong characters who like to lead and often will push forwards against the odds to make something a success. Being stopped in our tracks by complaints or niggles can be an extremely tough and annoying part of our jobs. But it can also be a benefit.

For example, a complaint that is polite, reasonable and well articulated could actually alert you to a problem within your business that you had no idea even existed. If it is potentially a system issue, then dealing with it quickly could prevent more complaints of a similar nature, and even improve your sales process.

When it comes to simple bad manners though, even if someone has got a valid complaint it is very hard to be reasonable with a response. But that is what you should try to be. That said, I am not an advocate of accepting that customers are always in the right. There have been a few instances recently where customers have contacted clients of mine and been very charming in a direct email, yet gone onto social media and vented their spleen in a way that you would struggle to believe it is the same person. Why do they do it? Hard to tell, but there is a tendency for many people on social media to try and show how ‘clever’ they are by being snide or otherwise defaming in their posts.

Again, hard though it is to resist biting back in a similar vein, you should always look to maintain the moral high ground, and if that means being super charming in response, then that alone can make other followers on Twitter or Facebook realise that the complainant is the one in the wrong.

Understanding and accepting this fact is a good way to approach any complaint levelled at you. Am I suggesting you ignore those complaining? Absolutely not, that would be fiscal suicide, and if you have done something wrong then the first thing you should do is hold your hands up an accept responsibility. You need to appreciate when someone has a good point, and when someone is simply just ‘one of those customers’.

The phrase ‘the customer is always right’ does go some way towards helping keep your business moving forwards when things are not going so smoothly, but when it is very clear they are not, then you should not feel obliged to pander to them. Just make sure you approach the situation calmly enough to realise which complaint is valid.

By Ali Steed, founder of The Business Powerhouse