Unhappy customers are a bit of an Achilles heel of the committed entrepreneur, business owner or leader. When you’re working hard to build a business and do meaningful work the last thing you want to hear is that you haven’t met the mark. You can find thousands of practical, stay calm, listen, sympathise, don’t take it personally and solve the problem type articles and advice online. But skillfully dealing with the complaint isn’t the hard part. The more challenging thing to cope with and attend to is our visceral reaction to criticism.
The unhappy customer lays his story at our feet, and we hastily pick it up, place it on our shoulders and carry it around with us. Yes, sometimes our products or services fall short, sometimes we get it wrong even when we’re doing our best. We should always apologise for failing to meet expectations and do what we can to resolve the problem. What we must also do is recognise that often the customer’s fear, anger, remorse or disappointment has less to do with a bad experience and more to do with what’s going on in his life right now.
You WILL have unhappy customers, no matter how caring and diligent you are. There is no way to avoid the pain of this fact. That one in a hundred customer who calls you out is the price you pay for the privilege of getting up to do the work again another day.
So yes, take responsibility for your mistakes and fix the things you can fix—while remembering there are some things you have no way of making good. You are not obliged to own the weight of your customer’s circumstances or worldview. You have an obligation to get back on track for the other ninety-nine customers you hope to serve and delight. Some of the greatest lessons unhappy customers can teach us are not about improving systems, processes and logistics, which in the end are easily fixed. The important learnings are about ourselves, and our resilience and determination to do good work and make a difference to the people we get the chance to serve again tomorrow and the day after that.
Image by FFCU.