The customer is always right … well, maybe much of the time. But when they place an erroneous order or even break a product out of carelessness, it can cost you big time. It’s not always fair, but if you want to retain your customers, you may have to suck it up.
Regardless of who is at fault, it is your job to fix the problem without laying blame. Your goal is to make the customer happy by resolving the problem — and taking measures to ensure that it never happens again.
Strike a Deal Rather Than Laying Blame
Small businesses cannot typically afford to spend time, resources and money fixing major customer-caused errors for free. But, you can often take advantage of the personal relationship that you have with customers to negotiate a mutually-beneficial solution.
Your job is to strike a deal that gets them what they need, but you may not need to take a huge loss to do it. For example, what if the customer provided the wrong specs for a customized product? If you charged $50 per hour for the original software development, maybe charging $25 for the fixes will cover your costs.
Make sure that your customers know that they are getting a special deal in these cases, but don’t use the word, “compromise,” and don’t come right out and say that you’re taking a loss. Your spirit of cooperation will increase their loyalty, even while they foot part of the bill.
Fix it Promptly — and Stay in Touch
Even clients who are fully at-fault for errors should not jump to the back of the line to get them fixed. If the fix is as simple as exchanging one product for another, take care of it immediately.
Unfortunately, not all problems can be resolved instantaneously through a simple product exchange. Depending on the issues, a fix might take a prolonged period —which might be the case if you have to re-tool to produce the custom-sized widgets that the customer did not originally request.
Even in these cases, you can communicate promptly. Tell customers when they can expect to receive the new products or services. Make sure that they know your plans and, for complex issues, set milestone dates. Then, be sure to check in promptly to inform them of your progress.
Learn How to Do It Better Next Time
Every customer error presents a golden learning opportunity for your business. You just have to be willing to recognize that a change in your process might prevent customers from making the same mistakes again.
Could you prevent future issues by carefully reviewing an order with the customer before making it final? Or perhaps the customer who ordered sauerbraten at your restaurant might not have placed that order if the server warned her that she was ordering sour meat.
You cannot control customer behavior. But, if you keep your mind open, you will see that you do have some control. So, whether you prevent issues by better educating customers, or you double and triple check custom orders before doing the setup, you can go a long way toward vastly improving your customer/vendor experience in the future.
Know When and How to Walk Away
Mistakes happen and everyone deserves a second (or maybe even a third) chance. But you can’t afford continued losses from the same customer forever, so learn when to say “no” to their business.
Your bottom line probably plays the biggest role in helping you decide when to turn down business, but other issues can come into play. Perhaps you realize that the customer is looking for a product or service that you cannot deliver. Or, maybe you cannot come to a meeting of the minds when it comes to price or quality.
Even if you are dealing with a toxic customer that isn’t worth your time or effort, do not walk away in anger. Turning down business is a part of customer service, too. Handled badly, you will gain the wrong kind of fame via vitriolic social media complaints. Handled with sensitivity, you can part company as friends who agree to disagree.