No matter how proud you are of your product or your customer service, it's always possible you may get a negative response.
Client disputes, issues and negative feedback can be painful, but there are certain ways you can deal with it in a professional, constructive manner. How you handle complaints can save relationships and prevent negative PR.
Below are some typical situations you may experience, and how you can go about solving the issues in the best way possible!
Your customer doesn't like the product.
After buying your product, a customer has contacted you to say that they aren't happy with the quality or finish of the product and would like a refund.
What not to do:
You may feel hurt or confused that the customer is questioning the quality of your product, but you mustn't get defensive. Don't reply just asking the customer 'Why?' and giving them reasons why you think your quality is the best; firstly, you should honour their request for a refund.
The right response:
- Politely thank the customer for getting in touch. They could easily have taken to social media straight away to complain, but they didn't. They're giving you the chance to solve the problem.
- Apologise sincerely. The customer is always right, and an apology can go a long way.
- Tell them you'd be happy to offer a refund (or an exchange, depending on your terms and conditions), and ask them for their details to make that happen.
- Ask the customer specifically what they dislike towards the end of the email. Explain to them that your company values feedback, and without it you can't hope to improve for the next customer.
- OR send them a feedback survey. Use a free service like Surveymonkey or Typeform to create a more in-depth survey for the customer to fill out. Don't make it too long, but use questions like 'Specifically which features of the product did you dislike?' and 'How do you feel we can improve this?' to get the best results.
- Offer them some compensation. Not all companies can do this, but if you feel you can, offering a voucher or a % discount off their next purchase can make the customer feel like they're valuable to your business, and may even result in positive PR.
Your client isn't happy with the service.
Your client has contacted you to tell you they aren't happy with the service you're providing. They may even wish to terminate their contract with you.
What not to do:
Don't panic. It can be scary, especially if you're relying on that client for a certain amount of income, but there are ways to overcome this. Don't send panicked or 'grovelling' emails in the hope they'll take pity and stay with you - you don't want that kind of relationship.
The right response:
- Thank your client for letting you early on that they are having problems with you, and apologise that it has got to a point where they feel they must terminate with you. This will show you value their custom and feedback.
- Ask to meet with your client; in person is best, but if not a Skype call will do. It's always easier to understand the scale of a situation when you can see someone's body language.
- Work through the '5 Whys' technique to get to the root of the problem.
The 5 Whys is a problem-solving technique that many people find useful for solving client disputes. In this meeting, the client and the project manager (or yourself) should sit together, but there should also be a mediator to ask the questions. This is an example of how it might work in a web development company:
- First, the client is asked, "Why are you unhappy?". They may respond with something like "Your customer service is poor."
- Then, the client is asked, "Why do you feel our customer service is poor?". They may respond with something like "It takes several days for me to hear back from you when I email you with support issues."
- Next, the project manager is asked, "Why is it taking you so long to reply to their emails?". They may respond with something like "I fix the issues but never remember time to email back."
- The project manager is then asked, "Why don't you remember to email back?". They may respond with something like "Because I close my email system when I work on the issues in a browser, and forget to go back to the emails afterwards."
- The project manager might then be asked, "Why are you using two different systems?". They might respond with something like "I don't know! That's the way we've always done it."
It seems like a lengthy process, but you can see here that the root cause, and solution are coming clearly into focus. It may also seem unnecessary for the client to be involved in most of this, but showing them this process and being transparent can help them trust you more.
- Come up with a Counter Measure for the future, and a new proposal.
Once you've finished the '5 Whys' process, you should be able to see the true problem and find an appropriate solution. Discuss this solution with the customer to ensure they're happy with it, and suggest you get back to them with a proposal of how to take things from here.
- You may want to offer them an incentive to stay with you. For example, a discount off their next invoice, or extra features added to their service, may improve their feelings towards your company if they are unsatisfied.
- If the problems go deeper, honour their request to terminate. In special circumstances, you may need to refund a deposit, or the cost of a whole project, depending on how bad things get. If this does happen, be sure you understand why so you can make sure you're never in this situation again. You can do this with a survey or a final meeting.