By Alyice Edrich
complaints are never easy for small businesses. Many small businesses are ran
from a staff of five or less, which means a lot of heart, soul, and pure
sweat goes into every order or service. So how can small businesses handle
customer complaints without taking them personally?
First the small
business owner must acknowledge how customer complaints make them feel:
First, customer complaints immediately put the small business owner on the
defense which makes it difficult to be objective.
• Second, they make the
small business owner feel as though he or she has failed in some way.
And third, they leave the small business owner
Once those feels are acknowledged, it will be
easier to look at the customer complaint from an objective standpoint. Since
customer satisfaction is key to building customer loyalty and repeat
sales, it's important for small business owners to make sure their
customers not only feel, but believe that their complaints are being
With that in mind, here are a few tips to help every
small business owner handle customer complaints in a productive and
For online businesses:
You've just opened
your business email and you're confronted with a customer complaint, how do
you handle it?
1. Let the initial shock take place as you read the
2. Once you've read the email, take a deep breathe and
tell yourself, "Okay, there's a problem here that needs to be
addressed, but first I am going to step away from the computer for ten
minutes and let the problem sink in, then I'll come back and look at it
from an objective point of few."
3. Walk away from the computer for ten
4. Go back to the email and re-read it again. What exactly is the
problem? How can it be handled? What would satisfy the customer without
hurting your pocket-book?
5. Write your thoughts down in a word document,
check for grammar and spelling and then let it sit there for five minutes
while you read and answer a few more emails.
6. Now go back to the email.
How does it sound? Are you short- tempered with your words or were you
apologetic and problem-solving? Did you offer a resolution to the problem?
Not sure? Ask a business associate or friend to read it over for you.
7. Once you feel the email is ready to be sent, send it out. Give the customer
one day to read over your email and respond. If your customer has not
replied, call him or her. Let your customer know that his (or her)
satisfaction is very important to you.
Brenda Neuman of personalizedbooksandgifts.com believes customer satisfaction is the key to her success. Neuman
advises small business owners to take customer complaints seriously
and objectively. "I personalize children's books," says Neuman. "Spelling
is very important in my business; one misspelled word could ruin an entire
order. Before printing any book, I ask my customers to verify the information
they provided. If I receive a call from a customer stating the book had a
spelling error, I apologize for the inconvenience and request the book be
returned to me. Once I've verified the error, I'll gladly send out another
book at no charge. But because of the confirmation procedure I put
in place, errors are very rare."
For storefront businesses:
When a customer comes in with a complaint, always keep eye contact and nod
from time to time—as if to say, "I hear you." It's important that your
customer knows you are actually listening to his (or her) concerns.
Once the customer finishes telling you about his (or her) problem,
apologize—even if you did nothing wrong. Apologizing for the inconvenience
the customer feels lets your customer know you care and want to make him (or
3. Resolve the problem as soon as possible. • Can you handle
the situation on the spot? • Can you offer a refund? • Can you replace the
item in question? • Can you offer a partial refund (or store credit) if the
item cannot be returned?
4. No immediate resolution in sight? Ask for the
customer's home and work phone number, first and last name, and best time to
contact him (or her). Let the customer know you will investigate the
problem and get back to him (or her) within 24 hours.
5. Then make sure
that you follow-up. Resolving the problem makes your customer feel important.
That feeling of importance will have him (or her) coming back for a second
"Repeat customers are at the heart of my business," says
Lynnel Camling of handcraftedcountrysoaps.com.
"While I strive to grow my business with new customers, it's the old
customers that keep my business stable. If it weren't for their loyalty and
word-of- mouth advertising, I'm not sure where my business would be today.
I started out in the basement of my home, moved to the Internet,
and within a year opened an actual store—all because I listen to
my customers. If the way I do business isn't working, I find a new way to
Small businesses don't have the funds to hire outside
consultants to grow their businesses, problem-solve low sales, or research
new markets. They rely on happy customers to tell them what works
and dissatisfied customers to tell them what doesn't.
constantly receive the same complaint from several of your customers (or
clients), it's time to re-evaluate the way you do things. By listening to
repeat customer complaints, you can solve a problem that is ultimately
costing you hundreds of dollars in sales, thus increasing your business
profits! Just ask Brenda Neuman. When she put her store online, many
customers never completed the online sale. After listening to her customers,
she changed her store's look, optimized her pages, and added another payment
option—one that didn't involve customers becoming a member in order to buy
from her. Immediately her sales began to pick up. But again she hit a snag
in the ordering process. Her customers wanted to fill out
the personalization information before they placed their orders. Once she
implemented their advice, her orders doubled!
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