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Level 6

How to Keep Customers Smiling Even When Things Go Wrong



About an 8-minute read:


We talk a lot in this QuickBooks Community about the importance of keeping customers happy. Today we’re exploring how to keep customers smiling – and buying – even when things go wrong. Despite our best intentions, at some point in our small business adventure, a problem will arise. Maybe a package gets damaged during delivery. Perhaps an order gets lost en route and never arrives. Maybe a deadline is missed or a presentation just isn’t what the client had in mind.


Truth is, the way you deal with a problem can be a make-or-break moment for your business. So when things go haywire, what do you do? How do you respond to negative feedback from an unhappy customer? How do you leverage your “post-purchase experience” to help turn a bad situation into a good one? For guidance about giving great customer service even when we stumble, we turn (as always) to the people who know best: QB Community members like you.


1. Customer service starts with a smile – but that’s just the beginning


We’re all familiar with the adage the customer is always right. Debatable? Perhaps. But giving service with a smile – even when you feel like frowning, or worse – is a powerful tool for helping right a situation that’s gone wrong. Consider this example from QB Community member Jessica Bruno, of Organic Bread of Heaven:


“Customer service is everything in the small business world. Example: We shipped an order, perfectly packed and sealed. By the time it got to the customer, it was completely destroyed and the product ruined (customer sent pics). It wasn't technically our fault but more on the shipper. If we don't replace the order we lose a customer. If we replace the order, we don't make a penny on the customer. However, we chose to try to please the customer and replaced the order and reshipped. We now have a customer for life (and more). They said that they now tell all their friends and relatives how great our company is.”


Mini Sarin, founder of SocioPixels, shares this experience about delivering (or, more accurately, over-delivering) against all odds:


“We are a creative agency creating animated videos. One client wanted a video for a digital marketing event. We worked almost seven days and late nights straight to make the tight deadline. The client used the video for his product demo and won the Best Product award. Now we have a lifetime customer and a great referral.” 


One more example, this time from QB Community member Rustler, who recalls being on the receiving end of excellent customer service:


“Ordered a custom seat for my Harley – expensive, to say the least. There were problems with fit so I called the company. They shipped that seat back and forth to me several times, each time on their dime, until I was satisfied. When I called to tell them how much I appreciated the customer service, the owner said something that has been with me ever since: Customer service is easy when it’s a normal event. It’s how you handle the exceptional that will make the difference long term. Even though you will never buy another seat from us (the company offers a lifetime warranty!), you deserve our best.’

 Needless to say, over the years I have recommended this company on every forum I’m on.” 


The common thread throughout these tales of great service? When a company stands by their offering even – or especially – in the face of complaints, the reward is a lifetime of loyalty, referrals and rave reviews.


2. Every criticism has a silver lining (if you look for it)


When it comes to dealing with negative feedback from clients, try embracing it as a positive opportunity for learning. Here’s how some of our QB Community members find a silver lining around what could otherwise be a dark cloud of criticism.


SJ Barakony, founder of Service Before Self Leadership, has a checklist for responding to negative feedback. First he seeks to “understand, then be understood” (habit #5 from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). Next, he applies the principles of positive conflict resolution to help him steer clear of knee-jerk reactions like avoidance, silence or lashing out. He then takes a moment to distinguish between sympathy (caring about the issue or situation at hand) and empathy (personally understanding and resonating with customer who has a complaint or concern). After SJ thoughtfully runs through this mental and emotional checklist, he feels ready to deal respectfully and professionally with an unhappy client.


Wilson Lake Accounting founder Adam_Fenner learned some valuable lessons about handling tricky situations when he worked in security at a Vegas casino nearly a decade ago.


“It was a great experience dealing with bad customers at their worst and still having to maintain a positive demeanor and a good customer service attitude. I learned that the customer was not always right, but regardless of their behavior, I need to always be a professional. Understanding the customer's needs and adding a touch of humor can really build up a positive relationship.”


NeuroYoga Zone founder Keith Engelhardt shares his strategy for responding to, and letting go of, negative comments from clients.


Assess whether the feedback can provide any usefulness for learning and growing, or whether it is just mean spirited or a fundamental attribution error. When all else fails, apply Terry Cole-Whittaker's philosophy, "What other people think of me is none of my business.” 


Here are a few more words of Community member wisdom we think are worth considering:


  • “Separate the message from the messenger, and analyze the message for nuggets of truth.”
  • “Eat the meat, spit out the bones.”
  • “When taken as an advice, negative feedback can be transformed into an ignition for the engine of success through change and reform.”
  • “If the negative feedback is public, always put your best foot forward. Address the issue head-on without becoming defensive. For example, ‘Thank you for pointing out this problem. I will do everything possible to correct the issue and ensure this doesn't happen again to you or to others. I value and appreciate your feedback.’”
  • “Listen. Act. Satisfy. Thank.”




Beyond customer service: The “post-purchase” experience


Even if you’ve never officially analyzed your customers’ “post-purchase” experience, chances are, you’ve thought about it. Simply put, you create a post-purchase experience any time you follow up or communicate with clients after they’ve bought something from you. Do you send an email to make sure they love your handmade soap? Offer some pointers on digital marketing once a new website is live? Include a surprise gift along with their custom T-shirt?


All those interactions, plus plenty more, help shape your clients’ post-purchase experience. (Worth noting: If you do zero outreach after a sale, you’re still creating a post-purchase experience, albeit one that can be vastly improved!)


Todd Eby, founder of SuccessHacker, calls these moments “lifecycle” marketing and says they are an effective way to stay engaged with clients. “This gray area of post-purchase is worth drilling into,” says Todd. “It’s where the magic happens when it comes to thinking about how to get your customers coming back.”


Just as important? Your post-purchase communications are an effective tool to help ease the pain of a transaction gone awry. Imagine, for example, a customer orders one of your beautiful handmade wooden planters as a birthday gift for a friend. You ship the planter on time, but a snowstorm brings traffic – including the delivery van carrying your precious product – to a standstill. The carrier lets you know the order will be late. Do you:


  1. Ignore the situation completely. You can’t control the weather, so why not grab a bag of popcorn and binge watch your favorite show on Netflix?
  2. Watch (your email) and wait (for a complaint). You’ll figure out how to deal with the problem once the customer contacts you.
  3. Get busy. Package up a new planter and schedule it for shipment as quickly as possible. In the meantime, you alert your customer by email, phone or text message about the delivery delay and advise that a replacement product is on its way with no extra charge.

The correct answer, of course, is 3. This response is:


Proactive: It allows the customer to figure out a good “plan B” and not waste time waiting for a delayed delivery.


Honest: Who can’t relate to a frank acknowledgement that mistakes happen? Like the rest of us, small business owners are only human.


Generous: Replacing a product and covering the cost, no questions asked, shows you respect and appreciate your customer’s time (and, yes, money).


Service providers can take a similarly proactive, honest and generous approach to letting a client know if you can’t meet a deadline, need to rework a project or have to change the scope of a contract.  


We hope these tips and strategies will help you offer a customer service experience that’s sweet even when things turn sour. When you do, you’re on track to building a business that customers keep coming back to, no matter what.


Before you go


QB Community members, tell us about a time you made the most of a tricky situation with an unhappy customer. What did you learn from the experience – and how has it shaped your business moving forward?

2 Comments 2
Level 3

How to Keep Customers Smiling Even When Things Go Wrong

Level 3

How to Keep Customers Smiling Even When Things Go Wrong

Give encouragement and reassure the problem will be resolved. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. We appreciate the good times because bad times are a point of reference to compare with. Eventually the puzzle comes together. With patience and perseverance most things get resolved.

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