At one time or another, I’ll bet your customer service has gone awry, no matter how much you work to avoid it. Whether mistakes are your fault or not, angry customers can get … well, pissed off!

The key to marketing and branding success is how you (and your team) manage these blunders. Being gracious and professional during mishaps can distinguish your business or organization from others and help build and maintain positive brand experiences.

Even if being gracious and professional doesn’t come naturally to you or some members of your team, with training and practice, anyone can learn this skill. Just remember how you want to be treated when you’re the customer and you should be fine.

1. Diffuse customers’ panic, anger, or negativity by staying calm and listening.

If you panic (and you will at times), keep your customer communication even keeled, warm, and friendly. Empathize with customers while expressing your concerns, as long as it accompanies your plan to solve the problem ASAP.

2. Keep customers informed regularly.

B2B customers have their own deadlines and internal people to please. Do everything you can to make your contacts look good and keep them apprised of any foreseeable problems. If you keep them in the dark, they will harbor negative feelings about you and your organization.

B2C and nonprofit customers also have personal deadlines. Keep them posted in the same manner.

3. Jump through hoops to solve problems as quickly as you can.

The longer misfortunes stay active, the worse it gets for your customer relationship. It’s straightforward.

4. If the mishap is your doing, ‘fess up.’

Take responsibility and tell customers that you will do whatever it takes to correct problems. Apologize.

5. If problems belong to one of your suppliers or an external process, do the same thing.

Same as #4.

6. Never blame someone in your own company.

Your company/organization is ONE entity. Finger pointing is counterproductive, unprofessional, and damaging to your brand.

7. Once you resolve incidents, send customers a letter, handwritten note, or personalized e-mail expressing your regret.

For B2B customers, add a nice promotional product with it, a gift card, or something that they value. As an option, you can follow up with a phone call or e-mail a few days later to gauge their attitude towards your organization. If no one replies, you may be out of luck for repeat business. It will depend on several factors.

For B2C customers, add a discount coupon with your note, an invitation to a special product launch, or a voucher for a free product or service.

Depending on the error, send nonprofit customers (such as donors, volunteers, and sponsors) a follow-up note card reiterating your apology and what you plan to do make things right. This may be as simple as modifying an internal process so the mistake doesn’t reoccur.

8. If you can, write off the cost.

Depending on the severity of mistakes, refund or write off customers’ purchases. If it’s too costly and/or damaging to your company, offer a discount on the current invoice or a future purchase. Or ask customers how you can make it up to them. Sometimes, they simply want an apology.

9. Don’t keep throwing yourself at their mercy.

If you’re over apologizing, it can appear desperate. Once you’ve done all you can, keep in touch like you did before the incident. If these customers are on your e-mail or direct mail list, don’t remove them. Carry on.

10. Sometimes, time can heal the relationship if it’s temporarily broken.

Angry customers may replace you yet return after dealing with another company/organization. Or, they may never return at all and you’ll have to live with that.

Conclusion

After a customer service fiasco, there’s no guarantee that you’ll retain your angry customers. It’s a crapshoot. A lot depends on the relationship history, whether there have been any previous mishaps, and whether they are understanding.

All you can do is prevent errors to the best of your ability and repeat the same gracious and professional behavior when there are mess-ups. You’ll be better able to sleep knowing you did everything you could while maintaining your composure, professionalism, and hopefully, your company’s brand reputation.

This post was excerpted (in part) from: Beyond Your Logo: 7 Brand Ideas That Matter Most For Small Business Success

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