Why the BBB loves unhappy customers and you should too

At the Better Business Bureau, we talk, online chat, email, and write to many unhappy customers every day. Our customer information specialists and trade practice consultants work hard to calm nerves, put problems in perspective, and get customers and businesses working on a resolution.

From our perspective, every unhappy customer gives us one more chance to teach someone good buying behavior, savvy consumer tips, and reasonable expectations. The BBB welcomes unhappy customers because they provide a great opportunity to work toward our mission of advancing marketplace trust.

For your business, unhappy customers can be a source of angst and frustration. You may think they are out to get you, harm your reputation, or take advantage of the situation in order to get something for nothing. Of course, there’s always a small chance for that, but consider that the majority of unhappy customers really don’t want to be unhappy. They want the transaction with your company to go well. They want a perfectly completed service or a great purchase from your company. When they don’t get what they want, you should be happy when they tell you so.

Of course, the problem can be that they will more likely complain to others before they complain to you. They may Yelp, tweet, or update their status about their unsatisfactory experience, and sometimes you will never know. So take advantage of the opportunities when they do tell you. When they file complaints with the BBB, post customer reviews on our site, email you, or call you about the problem, pay attention to what they are saying. Once you get past the frustration and anger, unhappy customers can provide amazing feedback for improving your business.

How to get past the nitpicky nonsense and get to the heart of the matter

You won’t be able to dig for the nuggets of gold during an exchange with a customer unless you’re willing to really listen. Here are some tips for making the best of any situation with an unhappy customer.

  1. Start with an open mind. Having no expectations of how the exchange will go, including holding your judgment about the customer until you’ve heard the whole story, will help.
  2. Listen and empathize. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes while he or she is telling the story. How would you feel if this happened to you?
  3. Try to connect and be personal. If you use standard responses, the customer will know. He or she needs to know you are listening (see tip No. 2).
  4. Apologize. Saying “I’m sorry” can have a huge impact on the outcome of your exchange with an unhappy customer. It can break down walls of anger and help ensure a relaxed, effective exchange of information. It can even affect what the customer says to others about your business. Apologies can be extremely powerful.



What an unhappy customer can tell you

Once you’ve calmed and disarmed them with your charm and amazing listening skills, unhappy customers can be a wealth of knowledge about aspects of your business you aren’t aware of.

  1. Problems with your product or service. Did something fail because of faulty installation, or was the piece installed already problematic? Perhaps your staff has been mishandling or incorrectly storing materials and compromising their quality. Perhaps a timesaving shortcut is now causing a problem with the quality of your product or service.
  2. Problems with customer service. Think of customer service in terms of customer expectations. What were they promised? Did your salesperson say one thing and then put something else in the contract? Where, exactly, did your company fail to measure up? Perhaps there are policies or procedures that need to be reviewed.
  3. A poor match. Sometimes through the complaint process, you may find that a customer wants more than your business can provide. In this case, it might be time to refer that customer to someone who may be better able to fulfill his or her needs. However, this may be easier said than done. As business owners, we’re taught from day one that every customer is valuable. And it’s hard to say goodbye to a hard-won customer. Consider the core of the complaint. Is this customer asking you to add new products or services? Is he or she asking you to change the integrity of your business? If so, it might be time to say goodbye.

Kimberly Hazen is the regional director for the southwest region of the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau. In her role, she works to advance marketplace trust between buyers and sellers and to promote informed buying decisions.

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