From Complaints to Compliments: How to Handle Unhappy Customers

September 3, 2018

Conflict happens. It happens all the time, all around us. Do you handle conflict consciously? When someone is unhappy with your service, how do you react? Do you ignore them? Block them? Go into hiding? Or do you leap to defend yourself, lining up all the reasons why you are right and they are wrong?

Acknowledging Conflict is Important

Both of these techniques – avoidant and adversarial – can lead to more trouble and an escalation of the conflict. The third way is acknowledgement.

If you have an unhappy customer, begin by acknowledging how they are feeling. Show them clearly that they have been heard. You don’t necessarily need to agree with their perspective, but you will go a long way towards settling the dispute when you reflect and reframe what they have said before putting forward your own point of view.

Avoid Positional Thinking

I know it is easier said than done but try to avoid playing the blame game – it is a trap that leads nowhere good.

Keep communicating (and reminding yourself) that you are two people fighting a problem, not two people fighting each other. Focus on what is important to you in the relationship – it might be:

  • repairing the damage so you can continue working together
  • recognising that each of you have failed to respect each other’s boundaries and resetting the rules
  • resolving hurt feelings so each of you can go your separate ways without rancour, or
  • making a clean and mutually acceptable break so that you minimise any damage to your business reputation.

Every Problem has a Solution

You just need to focus on finding it.

Get clear on what each of you really wants and needs, what is important to each of you. Look for areas of agreement and emphasise those, and then start brainstorming options. How many different ways can you think of to resolve this?

Even completely ridiculous options that neither of you would find acceptable can be thrown out there – IF they are SO ridiculous that they will lighten the mood, but not if there is a risk someone will think you are serious and get upset!

How I can help

If you keep getting stuck in the past and positional thinking, or if there are important issues at stake, consider bringing in a mediator or neutral third party, to help hold a safe space, while keeping the conversation moving and focused on the future. I offer online mediation for small business disputes. Unfortunately I am unable to mediate for clients I have worked with in other capacities (such as if I have drafted contracts for you) as I am not able to be neutral – I am on your side! What I can do is provide conflict coaching in a Conflict with Compassion consultation, to help you sort through your options and get clarity about what you really want out of the situation.

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