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If Customers Are Right 80 Percent of the Time, What Do You Do the Other 20 Percent?

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"The customer is always right." If you're the customer this old adage is probably music to your ears. If you're in customer or client service... well, let's just say you might cringe a little every time you hear this expression. Don't get me wrong, I'm a firm proponent of the idea that providing stellar service and keeping clients happy is critical to the success of any business. That said, as a small business owner, the reality is that you often don't have the time or the resources to satisfy every unhappy customer. And frankly, in some cases, the potential downside may not warrant the hassle of trying to smooth things over with an irrational customer.

So how do you find a balance? The key is to listening closely, assessing whether or not a customer has a legitimate complaint, and then quickly doing damage control. Read on for tips on dealing with even the most challenging customer interactions.

1. Empower your employees

If you're the owner of a business, it's likely that your employees will be on the front lines for most customer service issues. One of the single best ways you can prep them for success is by giving them the authority to take reasonable measures to keep customers happy. In many cases, empowering employees to resolve customer issues will save you time and effort down the road. Employees should also feel confident that they have the backing of management, so that they can enforce company policies quickly and efficiently without the issue escalating.

2. Start fresh

When dealing with an unhappy customer, it's easy to form an "us vs. them" mentality and to put your guard up before the conversation even starts. Even at times when complaints are high, it's important to approach every customer interaction with an open mind, and be willing to hear the person out.

3. Stay calm

In sales, you're often taught to match the prospect's tone and pace in conversation. In customer service, the opposite rule applies. When dealing with an angry customer, you can often diffuse the situation by responding in a composed, friendly voice rather than losing your temper. People often just want to vent, so let them get it all out without interrupting or being defensive. A resolution will often take longer to reach if the customer feels he or she has more to say.

4. Be human!

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's surprisingly easy to forget that you're dealing with another person, especially when things get heated. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine what it'd take to make you happy. At the end of the day, a little empathy can go a long way. It can be as simple as saying "It sounds like XYZ has happened, and I can see how that would be really frustrating."

5. Evaluate

When it comes time to decide how you want to respond to a customer complaint, it's important to ask yourself a few key questions, including: Is this person likely to be a repeat customer? Is this someone who has the potential to damage my brand? If the answer to both of these questions is "no," it's probably a better use of your time to find a solution that makes them quietly go away, rather than bending over backwards to keep them happy.

6. Resolve

One of the best ways to find a resolution is to ask the customer what he or she thinks would be fair. In most cases, the answer is something within reason, and it saves you time while making them feel as if their concerns have been adequately addressed.

When it comes to dealing with customer service issues, no two situations are alike, and there's no one-size-fits-all solution. However, patience and a willingness to listen will rarely steer you wrong. In some cases -- particularly when dealing with someone who's upset or irrational -- you may just have to agree to disagree. At the end of the day, preserving your time (and sanity!) should always come into the equation, and sometimes it's worth following the path of least resistance in order to resolve the situation quickly and painlessly.