Chances are if you have been in business for a little awhile, you probably have received at least a few complaints. It can be all too easy to internalize and take these complaints personally and get defensive in your replies back. It is much better if you focus on turning unhappy customers with social advocacy.
The reality is, you should think that every complaint is an opportunity to make things right with that particular customer. After all, for every one customer complaint online, there is usually 26 other customers who feel the same way but don’t say anything.
The purpose of a business is to create a customer who creates customers.
So, ok … we have taken a small liberty on Peter Drucker’s quote. We added the part about who creates customers. We are pretty sure Drucker would agree with us. After all, building customer advocates are one of the most important jobs of the business.
Let’s remind us what an advocate is. An advocate is a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular business, cause or policy. For example, MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are groups that work to publicize and find solutions for particular issues.
These advocate groups have a big impact on the issues they’re passionate about.
Because of their passion, they have big power to influence how the public thinks and acts about responsible driving and animal treatment.
This simple change in mindset can often make the biggest difference when it comes to resolving and even turning unhappy customers into advocates.
That said, not all unhappy customers are created equal. There are certain responses and tactics needed for certain scenarios.
In this post, I’ll walk you through several different scenarios and how you can de-escalate them.
Social advocacy … customer crisis
These are your most critical situations. They will most likely affect many (if not all) of your customers instead of just one or a few.
This includes crisis communication issues such as these that you’ll recognize:
Major product bugs
In these situations, you should default to your specific crisis communications plan. If you don’t have a plan drafted already, I will encourage you to work with your support team, PR folks, and all necessary stakeholders to get a full response plan in place. Including a full list of emergency points of contact.
Product or support issues
These issues may or may not be your fault. They may be a product bug or a perceived injustice from the customer.
In these situations, we recommend a five-step process to de-escalate the unhappy client.
The quickest way to take control and begin to turn around a negative customer experience is to listen to the client well.
Repeat back the problem
This may seem like an unnecessary step. However, so many situations wind up escalating because both sides are trying to solve different problems. Simply taking the first sentence or two to restate the customer’s problem can go a long way.
Classify the problem type of problem
Is it an instance where you or your team made an error? In that case, your mindset should be what are you going to do to fix it. How will you make things right again with the customer?
Is it a product bug? You need to replicate and document the issue as thoroughly as you can, and then get it to your supplier or product team.
Is it a perceived injustice or a misunderstanding with the customer? Either you need to help them find a suitable resolution to their pain point.
Your first response back to the customer should be within 24 hours, and even that is pushing it. In fact, according to Hubspot, 72% of people who complain on Twitter expect a response within an hour.
If you have a resolution for the client within that initial 24 hours, you should apologize for the issue. Then document out the full resolution in your reply.
If you need more information from the customer, your response should be one that reassures them. You should tell them they are in good hands and you will work with them to get this resolved.
If the issue is something more long-standing like a product bug, your response should be one that reassures the customer that your team is taking action. Then keep them apprised of the status
Follow-up after resolution
We recommend reaching back to the customer a couple of days later just to check-in. Even the most difficult customers will appreciate you taking the time to check in with them. This will go a long way in rebuilding trust with this customer.
Feature requests and product feedback are other areas that can lead to some negative customer experiences if unchecked. You ideally should have measures in place to bring in ample customer feedback into your product development process.
In fact, here are ten great tips from Vimeo’s community team for how they organize their community product feedback. However, that’s probably not going to stop such occasional suggestions coming through. When this happens, it’s important to realize these are coming from power users of your product.
Even if they aren’t shouting your product to the rooftops, these are the people who already value your product so much that they are coming to you with suggestions for how to make it better.
You should acknowledge and cherish these customers extra tightly.
Here’s how you can reply to these customers in a way that makes them feel valued and heard even if they are receiving a “no” to their response.
As you get more product feedback streaming into your support team, you should set up a system where you can send feedback around feature requests to your product team on a regular basis.
My first job was working at a cashier at a McDonalds in a mall food court at the age of 16. While the job was far from glamorous, it did teach me a lot about how to handle the “regular customers.” In this case, these were customers who frequented this store on a regular basis. They ranged from being very picky about their orders to expecting the same meal/service each time.
Then there were the ones who would scream at you for only giving them one napkin instead of 3.
Your support team probably has a few regulars of their own. They are the ones who frequent a particular channel on a regular basis and never seem to be satisfied despite whatever resolution you give them.
These are the ones where it can be easy to take personally or just want to blow them off as the “difficult customer.” That’s rarely a wise move.
The best thing you can do in these situations is to try and isolate the root issue behind all of their concerns. Try using a root-cause-analysis. The key to this approach is you can get to the lingering, real root issue of the problem by asking up to 5 WHY questions.
For example, they might be a frequent complainer about specific facets of your product. However, their real issue is that they are trying to cast blame on these specific issues instead of the larger issue that’s impacting their satisfaction.
The 5 WHYS Approach
Here is a technique I really appreciate. Let me explain why.
The vast majority of the time you can get to the root of the customer’s issue in a 15-minute phone call. The simple objective of the call is for you to listen. I can guarantee that you will learn something from the customer in that time and more importantly the customer will appreciate you listening to them.
If you are lucky, you will be able to resolve the problem on the spot. However, in many scenarios, this is probably something you can’t fix.
I love helping people and want to go out my way to help people fix their problems. However, in these situations, the best thing you can do for the customer is pointing them to the best, possible resources where they can get their issue resolved.
This is a specific type of customer that you will likely only see within your online channels.
They are the types of clients that thrive off fueling the biggest audience possible around their issues.
If left unchecked, these customers can create chaos in your community. It requires moderation. In any scenario, you should default back to your community guidelines and craft an email communicating the issue and why the client’s actions violate your community guidelines.
Social advocacy … legal issues
Even if you have tremendous trust in your support team to do right by your customers, you should escalate these concerns to your legal team right away. This isn’t something your support agents are going to be equipped to handle.
The actual response process should be detailed in full in your crisis communications plan.
Really bad people
These are the customers, who are quite frankly just bad (not just challenging) customers. These are the customers who:
Make personal attacks on people, not problems.
Prone to non-constructive feedback, including excessive use of profanity.
In these scenarios, it’s absolutely in your best interest to nicely part ways with the particular customer.
Regardless of how dicey the situation may be, all scenarios can be made so much better by simply listening, acknowledging and emphasizing with the customer. This can go the longest way even when you are giving the customer an answer they don’t want to hear.
The bottom line
It shouldn’t take more than one unpleasant experience for a business owner to realize that proactive measures are more effective when it comes to customer service than having to respond to an unhappy customer. The tips mentioned here represent just a portion of the steps a business owner can take to set things right with a customer who’s disappointed, angry, or upset.
Although the situation might be slightly different when dealing with a customer who’s downright nasty, the principles applied are still the same: an unhappy customer will wreak havoc on a business’s reputation unless the business owner rectifies the situation.
There will be times when nothing can be done to satisfy an unhappy customer. But employees who handle customer service complaints quickly, efficiently and professionally will minimize those issues and will give employees a sense of ownership in their jobs and the company.
Need some help in building better customer trust from your customer experiences? Creative ideas to help grow your customer relationships?
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Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he blogs on topics that relate to improving the performance of your business. Find them on G+, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
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How to Turn Unhappy Customers with Social Advocacy