When things go wrong, here’s how to make them right

So you've got a bad review, an unhappy customer and you're wondering what to do about it.

Let's look at the damage first: a) we’re all part of a network. And happy customers can sometimes talk to their network and promote your business for free, but unhappy customers? Those always talk.

b) And then there's the review, a stain on your business and the trust that you can build and project onto your brand that goes well beyond any particular customer's network. And while reaching out to a customer and making things right doesn’t necessarily ensure that they’ll update their review, it makes it a possibility.

Having considered these things you may be thinking "ok, so how can I fix this? How do I make things right?".

That's great. That's always a great starting point — to have the willingness to make things right.

So let's move on to more practical things, a step by step guide that can help you fix a less than ideal situation with an unhappy customer:

1. Reaching Out

Reaching out to your customer comes with its own sets of complications but don't worry it's not rocket science, you just have to keep a couple of things in mind:

a) Don't panic, most customers understand that sometimes things go wrong. They don't want to know whose fault is it, or exactly what went wrong. A detailed explanation won't help you here. What you need to do is acknowledge that they deserved a better experience and you failed to deliver that for them. And that that's what you're here for now. To make up for it. Now, that doesn't mean you should be overly apologetic. Acknowledging that things went wrong and that you're there to make things right should generally be enough. Of course, this may vary depending on what happened.

b) Listen to your customer. The reason this customer is unhappy might be very different from what you think. So consider what they're saying in earnest and try to see things from their point of view. Understanding what's really bothering them will help you offer a solution that directly relates to what they're feeling. Yes, I said feeling. Doing right by the customer isn't exclusively about what happened but also about how that made them feel.

c) Think about your brand and how you want to be perceived through any communication. So reassure this customer that you're taking steps so that this doesn't happen to other customers. You may think this doesn't make a difference but it does. Also, don't lose your brand's voice and personality because something went wrong. Apologizing and making things right doesn't mean you stop being you. So think about that too. How does this particular brand apologize?

d) Acting fast is also important here. Consider that each moment that goes by while you haven’t reached out to make things right with this hypothetical unhappy customer not only are you not gaining more potential customers from his network, you might be closing the door on any of them ever considering you as an option, depending on what happened. So get to work.

2. Coming Up With A Solution

So you know what went wrong and how your customer feels about it, you've reached out to them. Now what?

Well, first things first. Make what should've happened happen. By that, I mean that you should first cover the basics: if the product needs replacing, replace it. If the damage is such that the customer needs to be refunded, refund your customer. Sometimes this might be tough but if it's the right the to do then there's no way around it. Do what's right.

But you also need to give your customer something else, something to account for their bad experience and the time it took for you to take notice of it and make things right. It doesn't have to be huge it just has to be enough to make it clear that you've thought about this from their perspective and appreciate them. Say maybe a free shipping on their purchase + a discount, or a free item (something you know your customers usually want or like, don't give them something that you know few of your customers are interested in) or a special perk (enjoy premium version for x amount of time instead of mid-tier version).

And this should be enough, for most cases. But depending on the product or service that you offer, there may be more serious instances in which collateral damage is involved. If your customer told you about a particular way in which something else went wrong because of the way that your product or service failed them specifically, you may want to think about that and, if there's a way that isn't too costly for you, also try to make up for that. That will surely convince your customer that this was an isolated incident, that it won't happen again, that you value your customers and care about the consequences, and ultimately, that you have elite customer service.

I understand that, generally, this won't be a possibility but if it is, consider it, that's all I'm saying.

3. Propose And Collaborate

Ask your customer "does this work for you?"

Before you go executing this solution you've thought about, check with your customer if this is something they would like as a solution. Maybe there's something to tweak that won't affect you that much but that would make your solution a lot better for your customer. And don't be afraid to let the customer throw their own ideas around. Be collaborative.

Letting your customer get involved in the process ensures that they'll feel better about the end result, after all, they had a hand in coming up with it. Sure, that doesn't mean that anything goes, but most customers know this already, you don't have to draw the line for them. And those who don't just need you to draw the line. And that's alright.

Once your customer tells you they'd be ok with whatever you both came up with, execute. Just make it happen.

4. Ask Them To Update Their Review

You've gone a long way, there's nothing wrong in asking them to reconsider their review.

After all, even if you wronged them initially, there's a good chance they're pretty satisfied with your customer service by now, and that they feel appreciated and heard. Chances are you don't even need to ask, but it's always better to ask because they might've already forgotten that they left a bad review.

Don't leave it up to chance. Leave it up to them. More often than not, they'll do what's right. After all, you did right by them.

To recap:

  1. Reach Out - find out what went wrong, apologize, reassure them that you're there to make things better and listen to your customer.
  2. Coming Up With a Solution - make what should've happened happen, and offer your customer something extra to show your appreciation.
  3. Propose And Collaborate - talk with your customer about your proposed solution and don't be afraid to let your customer make their own proposals. Work together on something.
  4. Ask Them to Update Their Review - there's nothing wrong with asking, and if you followed these steps, chances are they feel appreciated and heard and they'll be willing to update their review.

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