Hug The Haters: The Case For the Complaining Customer

In business, complaining customers are just as assured as death and taxes. We’ve all BEEN that customer yelling about issues such as poor customer service, incorrect orders or hidden costs or information at one point in time. When the shoe is on your foot, negative feedback can feel like a brass-knuckled punch to the gut. It’s hard not to take it personally but if you take a step back, you’ll realise what a golden opportunity a complaint is.

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Flip your mentality

The fashion industry is more than just offering a product. Service makes up a large chunk of the shopping experience, with customers demanding more transparency, convenience and an increased level of speed than ever before. With social media making the perfect platforms to air grievances, brands are receiving feedback at a faster rate. For example, according to the Institute of Customer Service, online complaints have increased by eight-fold in the UK since January 2014.

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Jay Baer, a bestselling author and an online and online customer service speaker, thinks you should be hugging your ‘haters’ because they “can teach you about your business, your audiences, and your growth opportunities”. So, when you have an unhappy customer, you and your staff must remember that:

  • They’re frustrated by the situation they’re in, and not necessarily at you.
  • One customer complaints could be an indication that there could be many more going through the same experience.
  • The fact that they’re voicing their concerns makes them a loyal customer.
  • Complaints indicate that they haven’t given up on you just yet. Those who don’t complain are a lost cause.


Complaint Impact

This is typically looked at in two ways: short-term and long-term. The former is your immediate reaction to the situation. Thus, begins the scramble to handle factual inaccuracies about your product/ service to save your reputation and restore customer-trust. Once that fire has been put out, you start to think about the long-term impacts of the complaint. It’s exposed a gap in your product or service that needs some rectifying, stat! It also helps you to re-evaluate what your brand message is and how to better serve your target audience. Because the truth of the matter is, it works out cheaper to retain a customer than obtain a new one.

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Operation: Convert the Disenchanted

Once you’ve assembled your customer service team, skilled in the art of getting the irate folks to ‘woosa’ and go to their happy place, make it easier for customers to criticize you. Clearly illustrate where customers can lodge a complaint and whom they should contact to sort out their particular issue. Is it a shipping issue? Talk to X. Clothing defect, Talk to Y. If you want to make a bad situation worse, 72 percent of consumers suggest you should make them explain the situation to multiple people. There’s also the option of being proactive and monitor social networks for chatter on your brand. People could be talking about you but they aren’t’ necessarily tagging you in on the action.

Now that that’s been sorted, let’s do some damage control:

Even if their complaint seems outrageous, respond immediately to acknowledge it and assure them that action will be taken to rectify the situation. Remember, your customer is infinitely connected and thus expects immediate feedback. Your response time is often used to define just how much you value them. If you’re not sure on how to handle the situation, still respond to their communication with a request for more time to evaluate and research their specific issue.

As tempting as it is, DO NOT play the blame game. Let the consumer speak out their frustration completely and ensure your team keenly listens. They shouldn’t cut off the client mid-rant to offer a solution. You can’t afford to make assumptions about their complaint and what they need. When they’re done, sincerely apologize.

Even if it’s not your fault, offer to make things better for the sake of brand perception. Use the situation to demonstrate to them, and potential customers, that you’re the kind of brand that goes above and beyond for their customer. Nevertheless, you should remember your boundaries. If you can rectify it, do so. But ensure your store policies are clearly displayed. For example, return policies such as ‘It should be done within a week of purchase and the receipt should be presented’.

If the issue was raised on social media, it’s a smart move to reach out to them directly after the initial response. The thing about negative comments is people really like to chime in. Taking the conversation offline keeps the situation from escalating under the public eye. Plus, you make this person feel heard when you talk to them one-on-one. Make sure you ask if they’re satisfied at the end of the transaction so that they can get any residual resentment out of their system. You’d be surprised that it could turn out to be a compliment or another insightful question your business can benefit from.

It also helps to give credit where it’s due. If their feedback showed you a gaping hole in operations, let them know they helped. This simple act makes them feel like a teammate playing for the same passions and goals.

So, you’ve created an escalation policy that helps your team know how to communicate with customers, as well as, who in management they can tag in when things get too tough. That’s great. But your communication should never feel like an automated response. Be it a generic message your computer sends out as standard reply or a narrative your team recites over the phone. Your policies should act as guidelines to be applied accordingly in individual situations.

Part of being professional is owning your mistakes. If it wasn’t your error, find out who was involved in the mishap. This isn’t to yell or fire them, but to discover the reasons behind why the problem occurred in the first place. Learn lessons, educate the rest of your crew and work as hard as possible to rectify the situation; and hopefully not do it again.

Done all the above and they are still incensed? It may be time to cut your losses. You can’t make everyone happy and for one reason or the other some people can’t be pleased no matter what you do. Remain calm, positive and in control of your reactions. You can only control you and your team’s actions, so make them as professional as possible.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” ~ Bill Gates

Sadly, there isn’t a remedy to make the negative feedback sting any less, but you can find that silver lining and make the best out of the situation. As Bill Gates once said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Learn from their feedback and ensure that you’re turning each customer into an ambassador for your brand.

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