How to Grease a Squeaky Wheel: Addressing Customer Complaints

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Karen Gingerich is the Operations Supervisor for Just Marry!, Inc. and its sister companies, Just Mitzvah! and Just Right! Destination Management. She has also been a freelance editor and writer for more than fifteen years, and co-authored The Susan Southerland Secret: Personality Marketing to Today’s Bride with entrepreneur Susan Southerland. When she isn’t managing three big event companies, Karen writes young adult fiction novels under the pen name Raine Thomas.

One of the first things entrepreneurs learn is that you can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time. We all know that whether we can control a situation or not, scenarios will arise where our business doesn’t come out on top. In the wedding industry, especially, there’s a lot of pressure to make a single day absolutely perfect. With such a big order to fill, there’s bound to be an unhappy customer or two.

So what can be done when a customer complains? Specifically, in today’s highly networked age of social media, how can you stem the flow of that complaint so that it doesn’t “go viral” and negatively impact your business? Susan and I have developed some strategies over the years, and we hope they’ll help some of you. Here are some of the biggest tips:

1. Apologize. While the words, “I’m sorry,” aren’t magical and won’t solve all issues, they definitely don’t hurt when it comes to customer complaints. The theory that the customer is always right can be hard to swallow, especially if they’re dissatisfied over something subjective. When a bride hates her bouquet that everyone around her thinks is beautiful, for example, what else can you do but address the bride’s dissatisfaction?

2. Be professional. Even if a client acts irrationally while lodging a complaint, that’s no reason for you to lower yourself and do the same. Always respond calmly. This will reflect well on you and your company, and the important people—your staff, peers, and other potential clients—will take note.

3. Be active on social media. It’s important for business owners to stay involved on social networking sites and address issues when appropriate. Many businesses have positive customer service ratings because they respond to negative feedback received on Twitter or Facebook, for example. On the flip side, be sure to acknowledge all positive and general commentary, as well. The more active you are, the more leverage you’ll have to offset any complaints.

4. Get testimonials. Your biggest advocates when someone complains should be your happy customers. Collect as many testimonials as you can and post them on your website and marketing collateral. The more you can acquire, the better! This is what you want others to see, including complaining clients, if something negative happens.

5. Address feedback trends. While we may not want to hear negative feedback, it should be looked at as constructive criticism and an opportunity to improve. If you note a trend among complaints you receive, perhaps you need to address some issues.

6. Ask the customer. When in doubt about what you can do to try and address a complaint, ask the customer what will help make it right. There may not always be a solution, but sometimes just demonstrating a willingness to listen to the customer and attempt to meet their requests can be enough to satisfy them.

In the end, don’t dwell on complaints if you have a lot of positive feedback to offset them. Focus on nurturing relationships with your happy customers and business partners, and tackle any obstacles that arise with confidence that this, too, will be overcome.

Be sure to check out our other blogs with helpful small business tips and entrepreneur advice from Susan Southerland and her team! Join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

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