Business problem turnaround: Handling a serious customer complaint

February 7, 2018

Every merchant knows that dealing with customer complaints comes with the territory of owning your business. Some critiques are legitimate—no matter how hard you work to provide top-notch customer service, mistakes and accidents are bound to occur. Other grievances? Not so much. It is, after all, impossible to please absolutely everyone.

When complaints arise, the key is to act swiftly and remain professional to rectify the situation and minimize any potential long-term damage. Because, as you probably know, consumers are significantly more likely to tell others about bad customer experiences than share the good moments.

Clover Online Listings helps you stay on top of what your customers are saying about your business. It combs a network of the 20 top review sites, including Yelp and TripAdvisor, and automatically pings you when there’s new activity about your business. It also eliminates the need to log into multiple sites by enabling you to respond to reviews directly from the Clover Online app.

But some problems go from bad to worst-case scenario almost instantly. Maybe a customer is sickened and hospitalized with food poisoning from eating at your restaurant. Perhaps a negative review goes viral on social media. When one of these nightmare scenarios becomes real life, what’s a small business owner to do?

A serious complaint demands an equally serious response. And the traditional actions you typically take—being empathetic and offering a sincere apology—after a complaint might not suffice. When you find yourself coming up short, consider the following remedies.

Hold focus groups

Typically used by large companies, focus groups can be an easy, affordable way for small businesses to learn about their customers. These face-to-face gatherings provide powerful insight into customer beliefs and allow you to hear exactly what they want—instead of taking a guess and possibly missing the mark. If you have a large problem, gather a group of your VIPs and engage in an honest dialogue. Their real-time feedback can help you figure out a customer-friendly solution. Afterwards, be sure to share out the actions you took as a result of their input. Doing so will deepen their loyalty to you and your business.

Retool company policies

Smart small business owners have company policies clearly outlined in writing. Formal guidelines and procedures for onboarding, employee training, safety, and returns and refunds, among others, help you run a tight ship. But that doesn’t mean you set them and forget about them. A company handbook should be regularly reviewed and updated. Outdated policies can leave your organization vulnerable as it matures and shifts in this ever-changing business climate. When a serious customer complaint is lodged, determine which policies are applicable and which ones should be reconsidered. Use the experience to help shape policy tweaks, with the hope being that the changes you implement will prevent a similar situation from repeating itself in the future.

Hire professional media relations

Posting photos of your culinary delights. Checking in at your boutique. Giving a shout-out about a long-lasting manicure. Writing a glowing online review. It’s great that your customers show you the love on social media. These endorsements outweigh any marketing or advertising campaign—and they are free! The downside, however, is when a customer uses Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Yelp to attack your business and the post goes viral. In those instances, the old adage of “any press is good press” doesn’t hold true. And your traditional responses won’t, either. Hire a freelance social media strategist or sign on with a marketing agency to provide crisis management services. They will break through the angry online crowd by designing and executing a well-thought out, creative response. This lets customers know you’re listening to their concern and changing how you do business.

Own your failures

Sometimes, the best way to move forward from a colossal complaint is to turn your shortcomings into a means to reinvigorate your business. Pizza giant Domino’s did just that after a new CEO took the reigns in 2010. Instead of quietly improving its product, the company created a courageous ad campaign that shared focus group comments about its food, including “worst pizza I ever had” and “the crust tastes like cardboard.” This transparency—and a promise to make better pizza—fueled the company’s resurgence.

Fire a manager

Managers are your most valuable employees. They can make your business, but they can also break it, too. And according to Gallup, 82 percent of companies do not hire the right manager. Bad managers lead to low employee satisfaction and engagement. And disengaged, unhappy employees make mistakes—often large ones. If you’re getting complaints about your waitstaff on a regular basis, for instance, it’s likely not your employees that need replacement, but your manager. It’s never pleasant to terminate someone, but sometimes it’s the only action you can take to improve the health of your business.

Get legal advice

Some types of small businesses have higher liability risks than others. (Think: restaurant and daycare owners.) If you have a waiter who doesn’t note to omit peanuts from a dish and a customer experiences a life-threatening allergic reaction, you could be legally responsible. Same holds true if one of your stylists drops a razor and hurts a client, or a product you manufactured malfunctions, injuring someone. As a merchant, you need to protect your business—and yourself—in the instance that a customer sues you for damages. Reach out to legal counsel immediately instead of trying to handle the situation yourself. Sole proprietors are particularly vulnerable, as their personal assets could be at risk if they’re sued.

No one wants to be confronted with a serious customer complaint. Large problems don’t have to be business killers, though. How you respond will largely determine if your company can rebound. By following these tips, your business could emerge stronger than ever.

[image: Raging Head by Don and Janet Beasley on flickr]

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