The Customer Is Always the Customer

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By Natalie Tejeda

Whether you’re a large or small business, these days all businesses face the same challenges when it comes to customer service. The big issues: many customers are quick to blast their displeasure on social media or review sites, they want to deal primarily via text message and want everything handled right now!

Many might say this is the byproduct of a reality TV fueled, self-centered, self-consumed, entitled generation of consumers more concerned with the perfect selfie than how their behavior impacts others.

The problem: a run-in with these customers is rarely just an altercation with a cashier or a heated phone call with a customer service agent. Oftentimes a company is hit first in that way, then again online—via social media or a scathing review, and then repeatedly as that social attack goes viral.

Worst case scenario, hundreds of thousands of people or even the news media give that consumer’s issue attention, and if they side with your customer, your business has just been tried in the court of public opinion.

It can be devastating for any company to come back from that kind of negative attention—especially a small business. Large corporations have entire communication teams dedicated to handling complaints, social comments, and negative tweets, and do their best to attack negativity head on before it gains steam.

But having an entire marking and public relations team at your disposal isn’t always a fiscal possibility for a small business—especially those just starting out. Sometimes you have to decide if it’s better to take a loss in order to resolve a conflict quickly or just try to weather the storm of negative publicity.

For example, I once had a client who, though we parted ways amicably, later came back to express some displeasure with an issue we were not at fault with. Although I calmly worked to find a solution that was a win-win and would solve this problem, he proceeded to yell and scream on the other end of the phone.

Far too often, people like my former client feel like their only option for resolving conflict or voicing displeasure is to throw a tantrum—and then follow it up with angry posts online.

Again, as someone who consults companies on how to handle crises, once the issue has been brought into the social sphere, it has to be responded to—publicly and politely, with full knowledge that everyone who saw the rant to begin with is now looking at your response. So that’s the first thing. Second, most public relations pros will agree when I say that often times arguing with these individuals is not worth the effort of standing your ground based on principal.

You have to ask the question, “Am I really ready to take on a legal, social and business fight over an error, miscommunication and perceived wrong?” If the answer is “no,” you have to determine, “What is the cost (ego, financial) to make it right in this customer’s mind?” Sometimes it can be as simple as admitting you were wrong. Other times it’s a refund, maybe of money the business doesn’t really have.

In my case I had to get past my own insistence to be right and just give the client what he was asking for despite their inappropriate behavior. Because at the end of the day the customer may not always be right, but the customer is always the customer. And more importantly, as my friend Diana used to always say: “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”

Ultimately most business owners want to be happy, successful, profitable, and to flourish. Although the short term cost of “making it right” for a difficult customer may hurt and even leave a dent in your pocketbook, the long-term result can leave you in a much better strategic position. By nipping the complaints of a highly disgruntled customer in the bud, you’ve avoided potential harm to your business’ image within the community, deflected a social media ambush and maybe even earned a positive review from that once-dissatisfied customer—who is now more likely to talk about how you fixed the issue.

Of course a preemptive, over-the-top, customer-service assault isn’t warranted for every case. Every situation is different and will require a different level of response to ‘make it right.’ But a policy of building trust with your customers and offering top-notch customer service in the first place will usually keep many of these cases from escalating to the boiling point and avoid your business getting blasted on social media. It’s a policy that will also benefit for your bottom line in the long run.

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Natalie Tejeda is the President and Founder of Tejeda Consulting Services.