Sometimes, bad customer experiences happen to good companies. In the worst cases, they happen to good customers whose loyalty you’ve already worked to earn and keep.
It could be a customer service email that went into a black hole and was never returned. Long lines, long hold times, or shipping delays could test a customer’s patience. When a mobile app doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, or an email marketing campaign floods a person’s inbox, the Unsubscribe button is never far away.
Unsatisfying experiences like these can happen at any point in the customer journey. Prior to onboarding or to a purchase decision, a bad experience can stop the journey in its tracks. After the sale has been made or the account created, customers are even more unforgiving, especially if they feel the problem could have been prevented. Failure to deliver on customer service at this stage feels less like a simple shortcoming and more like a personal betrayal.
[Related reading: How to Extend the Customer Experience Past Purchase]
Not only are dissatisfied customers likely to take their business elsewhere, they are more likely to bad-mouth your brand to their friends and family. Thanks to social media, that negative word of mouth can ripple across a far broader audience than it could have before. Twitter is awash with complaints – just peep the #customerservicefails feed for examples.
So what can be done to limit customer churn and control potential damage to your brand?
How to Win Back a Customer After an Unsatisfactory Experience
DO: Own up to your mistake
Customers reward businesses who display authenticity in their communications. If an error or oversight was made, acknowledge that fact earnestly. If the problem was more circumstantial than directly in your control, you should still acknowledge the seriousness of the inconvenience to your customer and thank them for bringing it to your attention.
DON’T: Get defensive or over-explain
A customer service rep dealing with an unhappy customer may feel tempted to try to excuse themselves from blame. If the customer is angry and lobbing insults or threats, it’s only human nature to get defensive. But customers by and large don’t care about the explanation for the perceived failure, and responding defensively is a rookie mistake that only escalates tensions.
DO: Extend a personal apology
A form letter or auto-responder has nothing on the personal touch. In one study by Accenture, nearly a quarter of respondents who returned to a business after a bad experience said that a personal apology was responsible for reeling them back in. This jumps back to our first point: authenticity in all things.
DON’T: Delay or let the problem go ignored
The longer a customer has to wait for a resolution, the less chance you have to persuade them to stay. Even if a complaint comes in at 4:58 p.m. on a Friday, there’s no reason to kick the can down the road when it can be addressed immediately. An ignored customer is…well, not a customer anymore, for all intents and purposes.
DO: Sweeten the deal
It may seem like a slick trick, but customers will be more likely to bring issues to your attention if they feel they can get a little special treatment in return. That might include coupons, vouchers, discounts or freebies, depending on the severity of the complaint. It may seem counterintuitive, but would you rather field more customer complaints, or silently lose customers without any indication why they left?
DON’T: Rely on perks alone
A coupon is not a Band-Aid. Without the other elements on this list – authenticity, apology, and responsiveness – special offers can only go so far. At best, they might temporarily placate an unhappy customer; at worst, they can send the message that you think the customer’s loyalty can be bought off, whether or not their original problem was addressed to their satisfaction.
DO: Get down to the root of the problem
Every customer complaint is an opportunity to highlight and examine a potential weak link in the chain of customer service. Maybe it’s something that can be addressed with more training, or by updating processes and policies to meet customers’ evolving needs. Customers like to see you take direct action beyond just a promise that “we’re looking into it.”
DON’T: Treat each mistake as an isolated case
Hopefully, you are keeping track of customer feedback through Voice of the Customer programs and tools. While some bad experiences truly are anomalies, it’s more likely that the experience has been shared and reported by more than one person and can point you to an opportunity for overall improvement.
Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t need much of the advice above, because you’d already have the systems and training in place to support excellent customer service at every touchpoint. In the real world, batting 1.000 isn’t always going to be possible, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your stance and skip practice. Most customers won’t give you three strikes before switching their allegiance to another team. So strive to prevent customer experience mishaps from happening in the first place, and use the data at your disposal to address any chronic underlying problems.