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How to recover from a bad customer experience

Updated: Jan 7, 2022

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In an ideal world, we would only have positive customer experiences. Between the angry clients you have to placate and the harsh criticisms you have to take, reality is a lot different. Even bigger than this, your brand’s reputation is extremely valuable and is not something you want to lose. The good news is that you can (and should) use these downfalls for new opportunities - to grow as a business, fine-tune your customer experience and improve your products. As the expression goes - “There is always light at the end of the tunnel.” It’s what you do to get there.

“33% of Americans say they’ll consider switching companies after just a single instance of poor service.” (American Express)

By recovering a poor customer experience, you’ll demonstrate your ability to solve problems, increase clients’ loyalty and show your genuine concern. Additionally, maintaining a customer relationship is key as retaining customers is much cheaper, in time and money, than attracting new ones.

Negative customer experiences usually arise under two scenarios: product problems (such as bugs and usability tests) and unsatisfactory support. Whatever the way it arrives to you, the pain for your customers is the same and has to be taken seriously. From your choice of words, to managing your emotions and providing appropriate responses, these tips will help you recover from a bad customer experience.

Let them vent

Your customer clearly is angry or frustrated, which means that you need to counteract that emotion by being the calm one. Always remember, the client is not mad at you, but rather at the company - so don’t take it personally. Allowing your customers to freely vent and express their frustrations shows them you’re here to listen and help. A good methodology for that is delicately asking them questions to determine what their problem actually is. This is your opportunity to find a remedy to the issue they are experiencing, while offering your users a safe place to alleviate the pressure.

Invest your time and keep it sincere

Have you ever heard the saying “the greatest gift you can give someone is your time?” This especially applies to your customers. Take time to listen carefully to what they have to say. To understand and defuse the situation, start by putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and seeing the situation through their eyes. Give them the feeling that you’re on their side, all the way through and use thoughtful customer service phrases to drive the conversation in the right direction. Firstly, be professional and don’t leave your customer hanging. They have high expectations during this sensitive moment. Secondly, avoid harsh phrases such as “I am unable to do that for you” or “It’s company rules.” Aim for cool and composed phrases such as “We understand your frustration. We’re here to help you” or “Walk us through the issue you’ve been experiencing and we’ll look into this for you immediately.” Thirdly, if the situation is right, don’t be afraid to apologize for the way they are feeling about the experience. For example “We apologize for any frustration this matter has caused you.” Sincerity and patience will go a long way towards winning your customer back.

Take responsibility

Ever been so frustrated that you caved in and made a spontaneous decision? Customers feel the same way. Negative emotions can lead to them packing up and leaving your company for good. Remember, every customer complaint is not your fault. However, since you are one of the faces of the company, it’s important to take ownership in any slip up. Start by identifying the issues caused by your company and address the matter. Offer a generous and genuine apology and back it up with how you’ll take action.

An excellent example of a company taking responsibility is the apology from snack company IRVINS Salted Egg when one customer found a dead lizard in one of their products. The statement alone had people from all over the web flocking to their Facebook page, and praising them and winning back customer hearts. Here is a snippet of the apology:

quote from irvins salted egg

Consumers expect brands to apologize for any mistakes. So, if Elton John’s hit sums it up nicely with his song “Sorry seems to be the hardest word,” remember that it’s also the most rewarding.

Consider compensation

In specific cases, you may need to compensate unhappy customers. Be aware, you’ll need to come up with your own compensation policy for situations where customers rightfully deserve one. This could happen if they are facing a severe issue that will not be immediately fixed, a never-ending conversation with no clear end or an unpleasant experience with your staff. When necessary, you can do so by offering customers something in return for their loss or negative feeling towards your company, i.e, a discount, refund, or free voucher.

However, compensation comes with many pros and cons. It can change a customer’s perspective about your business, but it can cause others to take advantage of you and expect free offerings. All in all, make sure you and your support team have a clear protocol on how to handle any freebie requests, as well as any specific edge cases that do not fit into this mold.

Follow up

Once the situation has been handled or passed along to the relevant team, your customer may still have some lingering thoughts. That alone should be a reason to follow up with them and retain their satisfaction and loyalty. From a “Just checking in” phone call to a “Thank you” email, the choice of the channel is yours. It shouldn’t absorb too much of your time, but make sure you do it systematically - it’s a simple thing to say, but it also shows your customer you’re willing to go that extra mile for them.

By implementing a smart ticketing system, your support team will be able to keep track of any interactions you have with your customers and allow you to follow up in a timely manner.

Learn, reflect and keep improving

Mistakes happen all the time. Whether you’re a small business or a corporate company, dealing with unhappy customers on a daily basis is part of the learning process. Use these experiences as a way to improve the overall way you implement feedback and improve communication. Whether it’s to enhance your product or tweak your customer service based on insights, you’re taking the next step to go above and beyond.

Start by tracking common issues that arise through customer feedback and build a plan on how you’ll implement them in your product or service. Learning from your customers is one of the best assets you have. By telling them that you’re aware of these issues and working on a fix gives them confidence that they’ve chosen the right company to work with, and in return leave a long-lasting impression.

The next time you encounter a negative customer experience, it’s not the end of the world. Focus on the above points and you’ll succeed in building customer loyalty and overall success. Take a deep breath and repeat the mantra “the customer is always right.”

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