No one likes to deal with a disgruntled guest. But the author of a new book on the subject argues that effective damage control can help reinforce your relationship with the unhappy customer.
“Conflict is a normal part of business, and we all need to learn how to deal with it in the right way,” says Maribeth Kuzmeski, author of The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life (Wiley, $22.95). Kuzmeski is the founder of Red Zone Marketing, which advises Fortune 500 firms on strategic marketing and business growth.
If you’re made aware that a guest is less than pleased, Kuzmeski says, you should take steps to repair the damage. Her suggestions include:
• Extend a peace offering. An apology, followed up by something modest, such as a hand-written note, refund or coupon, is an effective way to tamp down any anger.
• Don’t follow your “strike back” instincts. Instead of arguing with a guest, take a deep breath and remain calm. Then offer solutions. Make it clear that you want to rectify the situation.
• Get them to listen to you by listening to them. Customers will listen to what you have to say if you respectfully listen to what they have to say first. Kuzmeski suggests practicing “curious listening,” which involves repeating back what the guest has said, asking questions, confirming that you have understood the issues and listening for something remarkable that you can mention in a future conversation so the other person realizes you are genuinely interested.
• Have a standard service protocol prepared. Creating standards, procedures and methods of dealing with clients and servicing their needs can really help when it comes to resolving conflicts or handling a dissatisfied customer. Adopting a protocol and empowering employees to follow it helps your employees resolve issues and deal with perennially tough customers more easily. Start by looking at past situations and how they were handled, and figure out which solutions were more effective. “You’ll find that effectively resolving problems with clients actually makes them more loyal to you because they see that you care about their business,” Kuzmeski observes.
• Ask for feedback. By soliciting opinions about how you can improve, or whether you resolved a problem to their satisfaction, you create a connection, and “clients who feel a connection with you are loyal and will stay with you—sometimes forever,” she says. And everyone knows that dissatisfied customers not only take their business elsewhere, they tell anyone who will listen why they did so.