You build a business one customer at a time. Some are one time affairs, other last a period of time and still others stay with your company for the long haul.
So how do you react when one of your oldest and best customers experiences less than stellar performance from your company. What you should do is slow down and think it all the way through. You have a long relationship with this customer and it is exactly at this time they need to know that you're genuinely upset with whatever has developed. You need to take a breath before you engage with customer or staff. You also need to understand that giving up completely to whatever demands are made and make the situation go away is not always necessary.
You must gauge the severity in a very objective way. What is the impact of the performance lapse? Is it merely disappointment that the lack of the usual high quality and actions on the part of your company has left the customer feeling less than valued and respected. Or, far worse, the customer has lost business or money, or has the potential to do so, as a result. The conversations are similar to a point. Quiet listening is required to understand the bedrock of the customers' complaint.
Surely you want to return the customer to their previously held comfort level as quickly as possible without giving away the ranch.
Make sure you talk to the person who is voicing the complaint but also talk to the person with whom you are on the same level. In other words, if an admin level person is registering the complaint and they are not the usual contact at that customer then it is just as important for you to reach out to person who normally interacts with you or your company. This will demonstrate the importance of you contact and communicate your level of concern in a meaningful way. You need to demonstrate that you take any lapses very seriously indeed. Your emotional reaction at this point is almost as important as whatever you offer as a solution or compromise.
Your initial queries should be very calm, accepting the information without professing guilt or innocence, and be conciliatory in tone. I would suggest that you request a pause in the conversation so that you can investigate. "Let me talk to my staff and I will get back to you immediately." While you are gathering the information and explanations on your end it is okay to allow a period of time to pass before reaching out to the customer. This will allow you to understand exactly what happened, identify a possible solution and give the customer some time to calm down.
Be forthright when you get back to the client. If it is your error say so. Present your possible solutions - we will do the job over, we will deliver new product, we will offer a discount or credit, etc. - and quietly wait for the client to consider and respond. Negotiate the solutions as necessary so both you and the customer are satisfied with the result. Now is the time to apologize and do it as much sincerity as you can muster.
As a business owner you must fully understand that errors will happen, no matter how good your processes, products or staff. You should not over react. Your leadership in light of a bad situation speaks volumes to those who follow you. Calm professional wisdom is contagious and it is what you want to impart to your employees in spite of the distasteful situation.
If you would like to read more of Greg's published articles please visit the Lorraine Gregory Communications Group website
This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.