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Handling Customer Complaints
By Alyice Edrich

Customer complaints are never easy for small businesses. Many small businesses are ran from a staff of five or less, which means a lot of heart, soul, and pure sweat goes into every order or service. So how can small businesses handle customer complaints without taking them personally?

First the small business owner must acknowledge how customer complaints make them feel: 

• First, customer complaints immediately put the small business owner on the defense which makes it difficult to be objective. 

• Second, they make the small business owner feel as though he or she has failed in some way. 

• And third, they leave the small business owner feeling frustrated.

Once those feels are acknowledged, it will be easier to look at the customer complaint from an objective standpoint. Since customer satisfaction is key to building customer loyalty and repeat sales, it's important for small business owners to make sure their customers not only feel, but believe that their complaints are being taken seriously.

With that in mind, here are a few tips to help every small business owner handle customer complaints in a productive and non-offending way.

For online businesses:

You've just opened your business email and you're confronted with a customer complaint, how do you handle it?

1. Let the initial shock take place as you read the email.

2. Once you've read the email, take a deep breathe and tell yourself, "Okay, there's a problem here that needs to be addressed, but first I am going to step away from the computer for ten minutes and let the problem sink in, then I'll come back and look at it from an objective point of few."

3. Walk away from the computer for ten minutes.

4. Go back to the email and re-read it again. What exactly is the problem? How can it be handled? What would satisfy the customer without hurting your pocket-book?

5. Write your thoughts down in a word document, check for grammar and spelling and then let it sit there for five minutes while you read and answer a few more emails.

6. Now go back to the email. How does it sound? Are you short- tempered with your words or were you apologetic and problem-solving? Did you offer a resolution to the problem? Not sure? Ask a business associate or friend to read it over for you.

7. Once you feel the email is ready to be sent, send it out. Give the customer one day to read over your email and respond. If your customer has not replied, call him or her. Let your customer know that his (or her) satisfaction is very important to you.

Brenda Neuman of personalizedbooksandgifts.com believes customer satisfaction is the key to her success. Neuman advises small business owners to take customer complaints seriously and objectively. "I personalize children's books," says Neuman. "Spelling is very important in my business; one misspelled word could ruin an entire order. Before printing any book, I ask my customers to verify the information they provided. If I receive a call from a customer stating the book had a spelling error, I apologize for the inconvenience and request the book be returned to me. Once I've verified the error, I'll gladly send out another book at no charge. But because of the confirmation procedure I put in place, errors are very rare."

For storefront businesses:

1. When a customer comes in with a complaint, always keep eye contact and nod from time to time—as if to say, "I hear you." It's important that your customer knows you are actually listening to his (or her) concerns.

2. Once the customer finishes telling you about his (or her) problem, apologize—even if you did nothing wrong. Apologizing for the inconvenience the customer feels lets your customer know you care and want to make him (or her) happy.

3. Resolve the problem as soon as possible. • Can you handle the situation on the spot? • Can you offer a refund? • Can you replace the item in question? • Can you offer a partial refund (or store credit) if the item cannot be returned?

4. No immediate resolution in sight? Ask for the customer's home and work phone number, first and last name, and best time to contact him (or her). Let the customer know you will investigate the problem and get back to him (or her) within 24 hours.

5. Then make sure that you follow-up. Resolving the problem makes your customer feel important. That feeling of importance will have him (or her) coming back for a second time.

"Repeat customers are at the heart of my business," says Lynnel Camling of handcraftedcountrysoaps.com. "While I strive to grow my business with new customers, it's the old customers that keep my business stable. If it weren't for their loyalty and word-of- mouth advertising, I'm not sure where my business would be today. I started out in the basement of my home, moved to the Internet, and within a year opened an actual store—all because I listen to my customers. If the way I do business isn't working, I find a new way to do things."

Small businesses don't have the funds to hire outside consultants to grow their businesses, problem-solve low sales, or research new markets. They rely on happy customers to tell them what works and dissatisfied customers to tell them what doesn't.

If you constantly receive the same complaint from several of your customers (or clients), it's time to re-evaluate the way you do things. By listening to repeat customer complaints, you can solve a problem that is ultimately costing you hundreds of dollars in sales, thus increasing your business profits! Just ask Brenda Neuman. When she put her store online, many customers never completed the online sale. After listening to her customers, she changed her store's look, optimized her pages, and added another payment option—one that didn't involve customers becoming a member in order to buy from her. Immediately her sales began to pick up. But again she hit a snag in the ordering process. Her customers wanted to fill out the personalization information before they placed their orders. Once she implemented their advice, her orders doubled!

Related Articles:

12 Ways Solopreneurs Can Keep Their Clients Happy
Repeat business from your existing clients is the foundation of a successful solopreneur. Here's how to make sure you keep your existing clients coming back for more!

Resolving Conflicts with Clients
Have you thought about what you are doing, or should be doing, to resolve conflicts? What do you want the bottom line to be? If you want to still have a business 6 months from now then you need to consider this subject seriously.

Effective Follow-Up – The Art of True Concern
Here's how you can boost your sales and hone customer relations.

Perceived Indifference 
Why do people change companies? Why do people go to other places to purchase services or products? A study concluded that 30% left because of reasons such as convenience, relationship, product/price and other reasons.

Alyice Edrich is the author of several work from home e-books, including Tid-Bits For New Signing Agents—where parents earn $25 an hour. Subscribe to her free newsletter at http://thedabblingmum.com/joinezine.htm to win a free book!

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