We’ve all been unhappy customers at one time or another. Remember when you went to that restaurant where the waiter completely messed up your order? Or how about the time you stood in line at the store for over 20 minutes just to buy those two small items? Running a business isn’t easy and with inventory, employees, and technology all in the mix, something is bound to go wrong. When it does, you need to have a plan in place regardless if it is a simple issue or one that may threaten a lawsuit.

In the cyber world of social media and online reviews, just one disgruntled customer can cost you greatly. After all, consumers are two times more likely to share their bad customer service experiences than they are to talk about positive ones… and they will share to friends, on Facebook, on Yelp, and to basically anyone else who will listen. In fact, a dissatisfied customer will tell between 9-15 people about their experience. And if an angry client threatens to take you to court, do you really want the potential attention from the press? So if pleasing your customers and resolving a bad patron experience isn’t a priority for you, it should be.

At any rate, no matter how hard you try you WILL have an angry customer. Here are some ways to deal with major and minor situations:

1)    Give your customer 100% of your attention and listen actively to what he or she is saying. Put aside your defensiveness to hear the full story of why they are angry at your company. It has been reported that for every customer complaint there are 26 other unhappy customers who have remained silent. This problem may be hindering the increased success of your business without you fully realizing it. Furthermore, you can prevent this problem from getting worse resulting in a legal issue. For example, 26 people may have thought an employee made inappropriate comments to them, but that 27th may sue with the charge of sexual harassment.

2)    Repeat back to your customer the reason why they are upset. “I understand that the product you purchased was defective.” Giving proof that you are listening and showing that you understand their point-of-view validates your customer’s feelings and can defuse the situation.

3)    Apologize for the incident and then offer a solution. “I am so sorry that the website we created was hacked and customer information was violated even with all of our firewalls in place. At our cost we will continue to observe your system for security issues and we will pay for credit monitoring for all of your customers whose records were compromised.” If the customer still isn’t happy with this solution, then politely ask, “How can we make it up to you? If it’s in my power I’ll get it done. If it’s not possible, we can work on another solution.”

4)    Maybe for a smaller problem your customer wrote a review on Yelp or left a message on your website. Contact that person as soon as possible to resolve the issue. Send a gift certificate to attract them back to your store or website so they can see what a typical positive interaction with your company looks like. You can also request that they revise their online review after they try your product or services again. It’s worth the effort because happy customers who get their issue resolved tell about 4-6 people about their experience.

5)    Worst case scenario: what if a client or customer threatens to take you to court? Get a good lawyer to instruct you on the proper way to proceed.  He can tell you if the client has a legitimate case or if it is an empty threat. He can also determine if damages can be negotiated out of court and what documents you may need to file.

Being a small business owner is tough and the last thing that you want is an unhappy customer. Preventing customer complaints, defusing the situation, treating the customer with respect, and finding an appropriate compromise just may be the best solutions to avoid costly lawsuits.

About the author


Christina Morales

Christina helps provide useful business and legal tips on UpCounsel for our customers and visitors. Having over a decade of writing experience in a variety of industries, she has also been very close to the legal space from a young age with family members who continue to practice business and tax law.

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