Customer is Wrong, but keeps complaining!

What would you do if your Customer was wrong, but could not stop complaining? What actions do you think would be applicable in this kind of situation? Let me present you with a few possible alternatives and my comments about each one before I tell you what I would recommend as a course of action.

  • Just tell the Customer he/she is wrong and that you cannot do anything for him/her: This is most likely the worst possible approach you could have. It could only get worse if you were disrespectful while saying all that. For whatever reason the Customer is unhappy. Wrong or right, the Customer deserves respect. If you simply say there is nothing you can do, the Customer will automatically put himself/herself in the position of a victim. This will trigger his/her rage and his/her instinct of revenge. If he/she can’t get “justice” by himself/herself, he/she will engage others on this quest to make you pay. Social Media becomes an amazing tool to get others to know about your attitude and how bad you are. At least, this is how the Customer will paint the situation. There is only one side on this story and you have zero control over it. Depending on how good or influential this Customer is, you may have your 15 minutes of fame on the internet, but for the wrong reason. If it goes viral, you have a big problem in hand and no matter what you say after the fact, the damage is already done.
  • Just do what the Customer is asking you and stop the complaining, because the Customer is always right: No, the Customer is not always right, but they always have their reasons! It is our job to understand what the Customer feels or believes about any given situation, regardless whether we believe they are right or wrong. The problem with the proposed approach is that if the Customer knows they are wrong and you concede, they will keep coming back to abuse the system and get undue advantages from your business. In case the Customer doesn’t know they are wrong, the damage is less, but still, you are defining the new standard for quality service, which is higher than you anticipated in the first place. Both ways you lose. The worst part is that by simply delivering what the Customer wants, does not guarantee loyalty. Customers don’t love you for delivering what was promised. Best case, they get temporarily happy if you deliver what they expect, which, more often than not, is more than what they paid for. The loyalty starts to materialize when you deliver beyond their expectation. In this case, why would you deliver more than they expect?
  • Offer something that would make the Customer happy and give them a gift so they go back to the love mode: As we just mentioned, why would you, not only give what the Customer asks, when he/she is wrong, but more than that, you even give him/her more than they asked for? This may even make the Customer like you, or even forget about the “crime” you committed, but you are redefining the new standard of service. The Customer in this case is being incentivized to complain, or even worse, is being conditioned to ask for more. This “recovery” technique must be wisely used, particularly when you know the mistake is yours and a rectification is in fact due. This can be a very dangerous tactic if widely used, with no clear criteria to determine its use. This creates a new standard of delivery that you may not be able to sustain.

My recommendation:

  • First of all you need to understand very well what the Customer is saying. Must understand the issue and how valuable it is for the Customer. You have to listen to what they have to say without pushbacks. Always making sure they know you are sorry for how they are feeling. Be careful. You should not say you are sorry for your mistake, if you don’t know yet whether it is your mistake. The Customer must feel heard and must feel you really care. This removes the bad energy of the conversation. This is definitely not the time to say to the Customer they are wrong. In case the Customer honestly believes he/she is right, pushing back will likely make them lose it. If they know they are wrong, your simple pushback will trigger a reaction. First you simply listen, empathize, so you can see exactly from which perspective the Customer is seeing all this. Ask questions to understand where this belief is coming from.
  • Second, review the situation and understand what really happened. Sometimes we realize that, after listening to the Customer, we end up finding out that there is in fact a problem and the Customer, that originally appeared to be wrong, may actually be right. Assuming that the conclusion is that in fact the Customer is not right, you have to collect the justifications to the fact that the Customer is not right. Patiently listening to the Customer makes it easier for you to argue, as you know all the arguments and you can prove they are not precise or do not support the claim. Talking back to the Customer using their own words helps a lot to get them to put their guard down and truly listen to you.
  • Third, before going back to the Customer, you must understand the importance of this Customer for your business, ideally understanding the lifetime value of the Customer, so you can define how far you can go to keep the Customer. Important to mention here that not all Customers are good Customers. Customers that are dishonest, that are abusive, that mistreat your personnel, that put at risk you people, that can cause damage to your brand, that violate rules or even the law, or that commit discrimination against your people or other Customers, those are not good Customers. In certain cases, even if the lifetime value is high, you must choose how you will handle this problem going forward. Most frequently, firing your Customer is the best solution, so you do not expose your company, you do not lose your employees, you do not face a lawsuit or even avoid losing other Customers because of the behaviours of this bad Customer. Now is the time to decide. Do you help your Customer, even knowing they are wrong, or you let them go, managing the damage it may cause? Is this the time for a Stop Loss action, or a Remediation action?
  • Fourth, assuming you want to keep the Customer and you are indeed wrong, its time to apologize. In this case you have to show that you care, that you regret and that you will make it up to your Customer. This may be a great opportunity for a “Recovery”, ie, to offer more than the Customer expects, so you get the Customer to remember the solution more than he/she remembers to problem itself. On the other hand, in case you want to keep the Customer, but he/she is actually not right, this is the time to understand how much it will cost you to deliver what they want and whether it is worth the investment. In case it is something you can do, you have to explain to the Customer, very cautiously, that they are not right and have very clear and factual justification for that, but you also tell the Customer you are really sorry for the situation and that, because you value his/her business, you are ready to do what they asked for, as a one-time concession, just to prove that you care and after that, you set the expectation right going forward, so you are not defining a new standard of service. This will avoid the Customer coming back in the future with the same complaint. However, if you cannot do what the Customer wants, you must find an alternative viable concession and you behave the same way as above, ie, cautiously explain to the Customer why he/she is not right, explain that you truly care, explain to the Customer why you cannot do what the Customer wants, however offer the alternative solution, as a one-time concession, just to make the Customer happy. In this case there is no need for a “recovery”, as it is not your fault. If the Customer understands they are not right, your concession will have more or less the same effect as a “recovery”, as the Customer expectation would have been reduced and you offer will be beyond his/her expectation. Important to mention that the closer the concession to what the Customer sees as value, the better they will feel about the overall solution.

In summary, be smart, listen empathetically and carefully, understand the situation, from the perspective of the Customer, acknowledge their feelings, understand whether you are at fault or not, decide whether you want to keep the Customer or not, come up with a stop loss, or a one-time concession, or a recovery, as the case may be, redefine the relationship and expectations going forward, apologize for the inconvenience, thank them for their business and their understanding and finally close with a smile.

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