What to do When Your Customer Service Fails

Customer service is vital to the growth of a small business – to any business really. You probably already know this. But what if your customer service fails? If you’re a human, running a small business for humans, possibly with not enough other humans to customer-servicehelp you, there is a chance that, every now and then, you will drop the ball and your customer will suffer because of it.

In this case, what do you do?

Well, believe it or not, it is when your customer service fails – for whatever reason – that you have the most chance to make your business shine. Here are some tips for how to clean up your customer service mess like the amazing business pro you are:

Lose the Attitude
If your customer is unhappy with your service, it’s your fault. Even if it’s technically the customer’s fault or someone else’s fault, it’s your fault. This is because your job is to make the customer happy and, if they’re not happy, you haven’t done your job.

When you have an angry customer, you have two choices: You can either do what needs to be done to make it right or become a diva and give them an attitude. Of course, you can simply do nothing but that’s akin to taking the attitude route if you ask me (it’s passive aggressive).

With the first choice, you may still lose a customer but the damage to your reputation – if you do a good job making it right – will likely be minimal. In fact, many customers can be won over more so than ever before simply based on how gracefully you handle a bad situation.

With the second choice, you can count on not only losing a customer, but losing every person they see for the next several days (or however long it takes for them to calm down) and everyone who reads the reviews they are sure to write about you on Yelp, Google, Facebook, various bathroom walls and wherever else they can think to defame your name.

An angry customer is a powerful thing and, unfortunately, is more powerful than even an exceedingly happy customer. Don’t give anyone a reason to go home and spend the evening online damaging your business. If a customer is upset, give them a smile and do what you can to show them you value their business– even if you’re silently chewing them out in your head.

Hear Them Out
Anyone who’s ever been married to your average woman knows this: Sometimes, all an upset person wants is for someone to listen. If a customer is complaining, let them finish their rant. Let them know you hear what they’re saying and don’t interrupt them. This not only does a lot to diffuse their emotions but can provide a valuable source of feedback that will allow you to improve your business practices in the future (see “absorb the lesson” below).

Remember, if you stay calm and rational, your customer will eventually calm down. If you add fuel to their fire by interrupting them or -worse – being combative, you are only going to make it worse….much, much worse.

Make no Excuses
If your customer calls you to complain about a way your business failed her, apologize. Then shut up. Nobody cares why your service missed the mark. They just care what you’re going to do about it.

Your first instinct may be to offer your customers a reason for dropping the customer service ball: “We got really busy,” “My lead guy called in sick,” “I had to go to a parent meeting at my son’s school.” These are all valid reasons why things may have become hectic at your place of business – but they should never be shared with customers and, moreover, they should never, ever affect customers.

When you give a customer a lame excuse (and all excuses sound lame to customers), you are really saying that you are too cheap/inexperienced/uncaring to take the necessary precautions to make sure that life’s little hiccups don’t affect your quality of service.

If you drop the ball because of something out of your control – even something major – give a sincere apology and follow the advice below on how to make it better (“rectify the situation”). Then learn from this mistake and put a plan in place so that the next time you find yourself understaffed, overwhelmed or tending to other priorities, your customer will be none the wiser.

Don’t Pass Blame
This is closely related to “make no excuses” but happens so much that it deserves its own category. If your customer is unhappy, it’s not the fault of your parts guy, credit card processing company, call service or UPS delivery driver. The customer hired YOU and YOU are responsible for their level of happiness. End of story. If your vendors are dropping the ball and your customers are suffering, then the burden is on you to re-evaluate with whom you do business.

Rectify the Situation
Things happen – your customers understand this. What they don’t understand is having to deal with the fallout from your lapse in service. Show your customers you care by taking steps to make things right. Did they have a horrible experience at your restaurant? Invite them back for a free meal and make it a point to give them VIP service. Was their room at your hotel not up to par? Upgrade them to a deluxe suite with free room service. Do they have to take more time off work to come in and have their car repaired again because you messed up the first time? Offer them free shuttle service to and from the office at times that fit into their schedule.

Inviting the customer back for a (free) do-over that is completely different than the one they previously had is the best way to get them back to your business so that their most recent experience with you (which is the one they’ll remember) is a positive one.

Absorb the Lesson
If you are in business long enough, you will make errors and you will tick off some customers – sometimes irreparably so. If you do lose a customer, make sure not to lose the lesson. Take notes on anything the customer tells you, assess what went wrong and put a plan in place to fix the problem so it never happens again. In this way, you take a negative experience and turn it into a positive.

Don’t Take it Personally
Remember, it’s not personal; it’s business. Remind yourself of this when the urge to lash out at an angry, bad-mouthing customer creeps up. You’re bound to encounter a few and, over time, you’ll get better at dealing with them. Promise.