Every business owner and customer-facing employee has heard the saying "the customer is always right." This makes the companies who say it—and the customers who hear it—feel good. But it’s simply not always true in the real world.
What separates the truly exceptional customer-service organizations from the rest is their ability to successfully bridge any gap between their company’s performance and a client's expectation.
Mastering this art is highly relevant to service-based businesses. With product-companies, there's less ambiguity in customers' dissatisfaction: Complaints usually center on the product's being broken or the wrong color. On the other hand when services are provided, there's a lot of room for interpretation of how a customer's expectations shouuld be met.
Based on my experience, I suggest following these steps to achieve mutually satisfactory resolution of issues arising from company services:
Related: Turning an oops into an opportunity
1. Listen first. Ask questions later.
Although it may seem hard to do with an agitated, disappointed customer, employees need to listen and be sympathetic to a complaint. Avoid becoming defensive, as this will usually escalate the situation, rather than diffuse it.
Then when it's appropriate, ask questions to understand what the person was hoping to receive from the company's service or if the organization could have done something differently. Figure out whether what happened was your company’s fault at all.
Diligently uncovering the expectations of the customer and how they were not met lets you understand the person's position and starting point. This will help you figure out next steps and how to deal with the issue.
Related: 3 steps to happier customers
2. Own your mistakes, but only your mistakes.
Accepting the company's mistakes is the #1 rule for crisis communications. If your service fell short in any way and the customer is upset, immediately acknowledge where the company failed. This is important for demonstrating that you stand behind your service and are interested in resolution.
If any part of a customer's dissatisfaction doesn't pertain to the service that he or she could have reasonably expected you to provide, be sure to say this. (This is the "customer is not always right" part.) It doesn't mean that you should hide behind the fine print of your terms and conditions. But if someone expected you to provide a service that you clearly don't provide, point that out. Providing a better understanding might give you a better chance at retaining that customer.
3. Outline how you’re going to make things right.
If at all possible, try to resolve any issues on the spot. Train employees to assess the situation and empower them to create a resolution without a manager's approval. If clients can have their problem fixed as soon as possible, everyone will be much happier.
It almost always makes sense to provide some sort of compensation to the customer and it doesn’t have to be much. You don’t want to break the bank or have your company go out of business. But offer a refund, a credit to the customer's account or a discount.
Match the level of compensation to the level of inconvenience as well. Not every situation will call for a full refund.
Every business has had to deal with a dissatisfied customer at some point. When navigating this process, ask questions to identify exactly where service provided did not meet the expectation. Communicate openly and admit to any mistakes or failure in delivering what you agreed to provide. Lastly, resolve the issue by making a genuine effort to fairly compensate the customer for the inconvenience.
Related: How to win back lost customers
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editor.