It’s never a good feeling to get a complaint as a business owner and we all dread the moment that it could happen. At my DJ company, we book hundreds over events every single year and of all the weddings we do, we usually get less than 1% of them as complaints, which is something we are really proud of. Of course, our goal is to get that number down to 0% and we’ll do that by continually refining our training, team culture, and interview process. I also think it’s important to ensure you interview the client too and really make sure you are the right fit for them before booking. Sometimes differences in personality, personal taste and style, or overall attitude can lead you toward a complaint long before you even book the wedding. Even with your best efforts though, there is a high chance you may get a complaint at some point in your business life.
Step 1: Treat Them How You’d Want To Be Treated
Start with the right attitude. People don’t complain if things went properly and 99% of people are honest, good people. Treat your customer with that attitude and belief in mind. Acknowledge that if they aren’t happy, then you didn’t do as good of a job as you could have, no matter how much it hurts your ego or how much you may disagree. The customer is always right.
Once you have framed the situation correctly and have understood that if they are complaining, you fell short in some way, you should pick up the phone. Phone them personally, as fast as possible. The longer you wait to call them, the worse this is going to go. Don’t text or email them, just call them as soon as you can.
When you call them simply say:
“Hi its Bob from XYZ Company. I got your email and I wanted to call you as soon as possible. Can you tell me what happened?”
Step 2: Don’t Take It Personally
When you first call the unhappy customer, they will be…well… unhappy. They may be mad and taking it out on you. Remember that most people simple want to be heard and understood. Ask them probing questions from an authentic place. Pretend you are a detective, trying to get to the heart of exactly what happened. No matter how upset they are, remember not to take it personally. It isn’t about you. They are upset because their desire did not match the outcome on a very important day for them. Be empathetic and sincere and they will pick up on it. Don’t be overly formal or business-like. Just be a normal person, listening to their concerns. Take notes and try to get to the heart of the matter. Don’t argue or judge them.
Step 3: Be Impeccable With Your Word
Don Miguel Ruiz wrote a great book called “The Four Agreements” all about how to live a happier life and interact better with those around us. It’s no surprise that all 4 of those agreements are part of our steps to handling a complaint. Being impeccable with your word is one of those 4 agreements and it basically means that you should “do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it”. In the case of a complaint, it’s important to remember that you weren’t impeccable with your word, because if you were, they would be happy right now. Somewhere, for some reason, there was a breakdown in communication and what was delivered was not what was expected, no more.
Now is your chance to find out where you fell short, in detail and to learn from it so that you can be better. As well, if you suggest anything on the call (refunds, apology letters, free service, etc), it’s a new chance to be impeccable with your word, so make sure you only offer them something you are ready to deliver.
Step 4: Don’t Make Assumptions
We all have a habit of assuming that issuing someone a refund will make things right again, but if you think about it, giving them their money back really doesn’t solve anything except possibly making them less angry/upset. If you give them a refund, they’ll still think your service is sub-par and they will probably still tell their friends not to use you. Don’t assume that a refund is what they want and certainly don’t assume the amount. The key here is to ask the client what you can do to make it right and to come up with a few different offers to see where they are at. Some people will be happy just being heard. Some people will demand a full-repayment. Just get a sense to how you can make it right by hearing it from them. If they aren’t able to tell you, then feel free to make some suggestions, but the ideal answer will come from the client. (Note: You should never issue a refund more than the total they paid, under any circumstances).
Step 5: Do Your Best
When handling a complaint, you should really only have 3 goals. First, you want to learn as much as possible about what happened so that you never get the complaint again. Second, you should try to make it up to the client in a way that feels fair and meaningful to them. Finally, you want to minimize the damage that this complaint will cause.
We had a complaint at my company once where my team felt that the customer was truly just trying to get their money back, even though we had done a great job. I told the team that happy customers don’t complain and that we have to trust that 99.9% of people are GOOD. If the odd manipulator gets us because of our policy, I’d rather have that than do the wrong thing to a good person who deserved better service from us than they got. I also think “the customer is always right” is an important message to send to the team. It’s old fashioned, but it works. In this situation, one of my team members wanted to only refund the customer 50% of what they asked for (the customer wanted a full refund).
I instructed the team to give the customer exactly what they asked for, to the letter, even though the team felt the customer was being manipulative. Since our goal was to minimize damage, it was an easy decision to make. Had we only refunded the customer 50%, they would have still been very unhappy and would have been likely to post all kinds of negative reviews online. That would have truly been a waste of money for us to refund that customer then because we would then have lost the money AND had the bad review. Instead, we did what the customer wanted. No bad reviews appeared online and we seemed to neutralize the situation. Even though the team believed the customer was manipulative, we gave them the benefit of the doubt and we treated them how we’d want to be treated.
Complaints Are Opportunities
When we get a complaint, my whole company feels terrible. I personally feel like I want to shut the whole thing down. If I can’t deliver what we promise even one time out of 1000, the entire business feels broken to me. That’s how you are supposed to feel as a business owner, but you are also supposed to learn from it, make it right and move on. I have learned of a lot of good businesses over the years that were sold off cheaply or shut down because of a few complaints. I don’t think it’s ever a good thing to make a long-term decision because of a short-term emotion. The truth is, the customer doesn’t want or expect you to shut your business down and you are probably being 100 times harder on yourself than they expect you to be or think you should be. Yes, it sucks and it’s hard that you got a complaint but you need to get back on the horse and move forward. Your goal is to minimize damage to your brand, make the customer happy (or at least neutral) and learn as much as you can so that it never happens again. If you can show the customer that you are truly there to learn how to be better and share with them how awful you feel that you didn’t deliver on your promise as a brand, you may just make a lifelong ally. I know I’ve turned some complaints into friends for life and I hope you can do the same.