7 ways to handle negative responses

I recently had a former customer call me up on the phone. He was asking me to help him with removing a negative comment that was posted on his listing in Google local directories. He thought it would go away if we took his website down.

It should become apparent as to why we no longer do  business with this guy.

See, rather than deal with the complaint on its merits, he wants to ignore it. He claims the complainer is being unreasonable. The complainer felt he was being taken for a ride by my former customer. I wasn’t really disagreeing with the complainer (by the way, I’m not the complainer), which is why we no longer have this guy as a customer.

So I thought I would discuss the 7 ways we recommend to our good customers how you should look at handling complaints:

1. Never fear the complainer – Complaints are an opportunity for you to show your community how you handle adversity. Avoiding it says as much about you as does confronting it.

2. Be totally honest – admit fault, within reason, even if it isn’t your fault. If one of my customers complains I didn’t perform as they expected, even though what they’re complaining about isn’t in the scope of the project, as long as it’s reasonable I will take responsibility for the misunderstanding and work to correct the problem. I will not bury my head in the sand and hope it goes away.

3. Respond back in the medium where the complaint originated – If the complaint is from Twitter, don’t respond back in LinkedIn. Keep it within the medium received. Responding back in a different medium makes it look like your avoiding the issue.

4. Use the complaint as feedback from your customers – If your widget has a problem you will usually receive that information in the form of a complaint. Use it to fix the problem and show the world how you did it.

5. Listen – Many times when a customer is complaining all they want is to be heard. It’s as simple as that.

I had a customer of a customer many years ago who called complaining that a battery pack her son used in his hobby race car had exploded while being recharged. Back in those days it usually took twelve hours to recharge a battery pack. The kids would buy 2-3 battery packs so that they could race for hours. They also used to try to recharge the packs very quickly, literally zapping the daylights out of them. The problem was that NiCad batteries are a notoriuosly greedy substance. The battery doesn’t know when to quit taking a charge like SLA batteries do. There is a lot of heat created while charging which builds pressure inside the battery. So, once in a while a battery being charged too fast will build enough pressure to pop its top.

Scares the hell out of you.

It scared this Mom’s kid, which of course upset her. The sales person who took the call was having trouble getting her to be reasonable and so I took over. I asked her what the problem was and she proceeded to yell and scream about what had happened. When she appeared to be running out of steam, I asked her if there was anything else that concerned her and she proceeded on for another 10 minutes. I asked her one more time if there was anything else she wanted to tell me and she went on again, but only for a minute.

I then apologized to her for the incident. I asked her a few questions and I discovered that her son, when zapping the daylights out of the battery, didn’t use dry ice to keep the battery from overheating. He couldn’t afford dry ice so he tried the not so good alternative, ice cubes. She wasn’t too happy with her son when he admitted to what he was doing. You can’t really fault him since many of the other boys were recharging the batteries and he just wanted to do the same. The charging instructions that come with the batteries are usually tossed aside rendering them useless. So, I told this mom I would send her 3 battery packs for free along with a detailed set of instructions on how to properly charge them.

Total cost to us was $75.00. But we gained a customer for life because I took the time to listen.

6. Follow up – Never assume the problem is totally resolved, always follow-up. This will reinforce in the customers mind that you really are listening.

7. Make sure you share these experience with your audience – Don’t be afraid to share the real you. Your audience will love you for it.

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Author: Rich Garling

Successful results-driven experience in IT program/project management, focusing on collaborating with multiple businesses and IT workstreams to define detailed business process requirements into workable enterprise software solutions for retail, finance, pharmaceutical, and inventory processes. A successful proven track record in leading cross-functional international teams of project managers while managing expectations and delivering projects of greater than $10M within stakeholder expectations. Provided an in-depth knowledge of SDLC using Agile and Waterfall project management methodologies (Scrum Master (SMC)), MS IT Management/Project Management (AMU)), and a talent for developing business requirements delivering workable technology solutions. Rich holds a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Northern Illinois University and a Master of Science in Information Technology/Project Management from American Military University. He is currently a Project Manager III for Bradford Hammacher Group in Niles, IL/