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Start: Mark Evans

What to do when a customer complains Add to ...

Regardless of how hard you work, or the products or services you deliver, unhappy customers are difficult, if not impossible, to avoid.

Their dissatisfaction could be based on work coming in late, or not quite on the mark, or that fails to meet expectations. It could also be based on a failure to communicate what is wanted or needed.

These customer issues may be warranted and deserved, or they could be misplaced. But the reality is that the customer is always right - even when he or she might be wrong.

No matter how you feel about negative feedback, customers are footing the bill so you need to deliver the services and products to meet their needs. It is a simple economic proposition.

So what do you do when a customer or a client complains about your work?

The most important thing to remember is not to react rashly or take it too personally. A situation can go from bad to worse if your reaction to feedback or a complaint is seen as indignant or unresponsive.

Take a measured and rational approach to what is being said. Take a deep breath to understand whether the problem has merit or not. If there is a legitimate complaint, spend some time to determine what has gone wrong, and how the situation could be different or changed. If the complaint is misplaced, focus on why the customer is unhappy.

Once you have spent time thinking things through, then you can reply in a way that is business-like as opposed to emotional.

If your work is sub-standard, it can make sense to apologize or, at least, admit you have failed to meet expectations. Then you need to focus on how to fix or improve the situation. This should include details on how to make things better or different.

It can be difficult to do a mea culpa but sometimes being honest about your work is a necessary evil. By conceding that what is being delivering isn't meeting expectations, it validates the complaint but it also gives the business relationship a chance to recover and move forward.

If, on the other hand, you believe there is little or nothing wrong about the work being done, it is crucial to learn more about why customers are disappointed. This means getting details about their expectations and the root of their unhappiness.

It may be that what they told you to do and what they actually wanted are completely different. In this case, both sides need to recalibrate so they are both on the same page. Once everyone understands what has to be done, the work or project can quickly get back on the right path.

For small businesses and entrepreneurs who need to grow their businesses on the strength of satisfying each and every customer, the importance of dealing with unhappy and happy customers can't be underestimated. The reality is one unhappy customer can make your business a lot more miserable than a number of happy customers.

Embracing the idea that the customer is always right will give you the insight and skills to deal with all kinds of customers - even unhappy ones.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting , a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups - Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye - so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.

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