We all know that sinking feeling when we meet with someone who is disappointed in us, disagrees with us, or is just plain disagreeable. Within a business, however good our customer relations and products are, we will come across difficult customers. It’s just part of life. Having a strategy in place to deal with these situations will both help you to remain calm as they arise and prevent them escalating.
Prevention is always better than cure, and there are some things you can put in place as part of your general business approach which could avoid conflict with customers in the first place.
Communication is foundational, and so scheduling in time to communicate with clients via email, phone call or social media as part of your admin planning is a good start. This means that you can reply to customers within your stated time frame and you will gain a reputation for reliability. Placing your office hours on all communications also gives your customers a clear knowledge of when to expect a reply; this will prevent a customer becoming upset because you have not replied as immediately as they might like. Holding emails can also keep potentially difficult situations at bay; an acknowledgment that they have been heard and that you are dealing with the query.
Customer relations are so important, especially in a small business where each customer is valued; word of mouth advertising and a good reputation are vital. This is where product liability insurance comes to your aid. It can not only give you confidence that if anything were to go wrong you could sort it out without paying a huge lump sum, but can allow you to keep customers happy by enabling you to deal with a difficult situation once it has arisen. So, what is product liability insurance? Product liability insurance offers protection if a customer makes a claim for injury or damage caused by a defective product, or what they claim is a defective product. Your business could face a claim whatever part of the product’s life cycle the issues lies within. For example, if you sell online and a product is damaged or lost in the post, the complaint and compensation might rest on your shoulders even though you are not responsible for this. While we hope this would never happen, having product liability insurance in place would take the immediate financial stress out of the situation for yourself and ensure the client can be appropriately compensated, thus keeping your customer satisfaction and good reputation intact.
Another way to prevent complaints in the first place is to build general good relations with your customers. Make them feel valued. Maybe you could send out a survey and ask for what they might like to see you produce as you expand your range. Maybe you could set up a loyalty system. Maybe you could send out “thank you for your custom” cards with each order. Complaints are more likely to come where there is less of a relationship between the parties.
So are there any strategies you can put in place to prevent conflict escalation? The wisdom and experience of many business owners show that there are. It is useful to have a well defined process in place so that you or your staff members are not caught off guard when a difficult customer appears. The exact nature of this strategy will be defined by your unique business, but here are some general principles which can be applied.
Listen to the customer. Whether their complaint is justifiable or not, whether it’s cause is anything to do with your business or not, the best place to start is to listen. If this is a face to face incident, be aware of your body language; try to relax your muscles and have an understanding expression, even if what the customer says initially is completely unreasonable.
Reflect back. Once your indignant customer has paused for breath, it can be very helpful to reflect back on what they have said. This shows you have been listening and they have been heard. You can then clarify any points on which you may be uncertain. Anger and frustration may well muddy their thinking and you may need to apply some logic to pull out the salient points.
Apologise. It is amazing how an apology can defuse a situation. However, take care not to apologise for something which isn’t your fault. Once you have listened and clarified the issue, you could reflect back at the customer with a sentence such as “so you are disappointed/upset/angry because…..”. This may well get to the nub of the problem. If it is something for which you are directly or indirectly responsible eg damaged products, you can apologise for this, for the disappointment and the inconvenience. If it is something which you really cannot be expected to bear responsibility, eg the customer misreading the product description, you can apologise for how they feel, but not take direct responsibility for it. eg “I’m sorry you are disappointed…”. Their disappointment is not down to anything you’ve done, but an apology and acknowledgment will never go amiss and will help help them feel valued and cared for.
Give yourself time. If the situation can be dealt with easily, then you can move straight onto a resolution. However, if it is something more complex, buy yourself some time to think it through. Be careful not to make any hasty promises in the heat of the moment which would put you at a disadvantage. Once the customer has been heard and received an apology, you can reassure them that you will now consider the best way forward and will get back to them within a certain timeframe. Thank them for bringing the issue to light and end the conversation.
Resolution. If the complaint has an easy resolution, implement it and thank the customer for bringing the complaint to light.
With the right strategy, difficult customers can be seen as opportunities rather than threats. Product liability insurance will take away the worry of the financial impact of a complaint and leave you free to deal with the customer in the best way for both them and you. A relationship which has been restored is often stronger than one which has had no pressure put on it, and these may become your most loyal customers.