Guest Service Strategies: Handling Complaints as a Small Business Owner

Before my career change to freelance writer and web content evaluation consultant, I spent ten years in customer service. I held a variety of front line customer service positions over the years, and at one company earned a few recognition awards for giving great guest service. So, I think I can claim to know at least a few things about customer service. For example, if I had performed any job as abysmally as the staff at an auto service center I visited last month, I would have been counseled extensively, if not fired.

How is my experience relevant to you? If you own your own business, the time will come when you’re faced with a complaint. Or a whole lot of complaints. How do you handle a disgruntled customer when you’re the face of the entire company, from front line service to CEO? I recommend 5 simple guidelines to ease the process.

Guest Service Strategies: Handling Complaints as a Small Business Owner. 5 strategies for handling unhappy customers. WordsbyErynn blog

CEO reality check: Guest service is always my job.

Even if you’re not routinely interacting with your customers (lucky you to have minions to do the work!), you are still responsible for the messages they receive and the way they’re treated. By the time a customer reaches you, the situation is likely to escalate unless you acknowledge that your employees, your website, your written materials, and any other representation of the business are all your responsibility.

It would not have served me well in my former guest service life to have told a customer that something wasn’t my job, or disregard how another person in the business treated them. It doesn’t serve you well to shift responsibility in your own business either, boss person!

Marketing: My customers just want the truth.

If you haven’t completed a project on time, let the customer know. If something went wrong and you need time to fix it, just tell them. The worst that can happen is they’ll be irritated- which will happen anyway if you lie and they find out later!

If you must, be creative in your explanations, but don’t lie! For example, “We’re waiting on a response from the warranty company, and policy doesn’t allow us to release your vehicle” is a hundred times better than, “There’s a lot more that has to be done so we’ll call you when it’s ready.” Yes, that happened to me, and as you can see, I am still annoyed about it. The truth will always serve you better in small business than a lie will!

Guest management: Guest service as a process.

Before I even handed over the keys to my vehicle, I told the service rep that I’d had a bad experience the previous visit and wasn’t thrilled to be back (location and convenience for the win). He apologized profusely and thanked me for returning.

While an apology is a nice way to open, I don’t want people tripping over themselves to tell me how bad they feel. I want action, and your customers do too. If a customer feels wronged, apologizing only acknowledges the error. Let them know how you’ll take action to fix it.

Offer an item or service at a discount (or free!), provide additional support or services that aren’t normally included, or just make yourself available if they have future troubles. Take note of the fact that a customer with a previous or existing issue, might very well continue to have issues, so be proactive in offering ways to help.

Chief Frugality Officer: When good guest service pains your wallet. WordsbyErynn blog. Remind yourself that for the longevity of your business, small sacrifices along the way are necessary.

Chief Frugality Officer: When good guest service pains your wallet.

When I picked up my vehicle from the aforementioned service center, I was well over the one day rental cost allowed by my warranty company. My service rep covered the additional rental fees without hesitation.

I know that for a business of their size, this was not a huge bullet to bite, but to you and me, our work might be worth a lot more than forty and some change. There may be times when granting a full refund might save your business a terrible review, however tough it is to make up the difference for your bottom line. It can be disheartening to essentially throw away the time you spent on a service or product, not considering the cost of materials or supplies. But remind yourself that for the longevity of your business, small sacrifices along the way are necessary.

Public Relations: Reduce opportunities for gossip and public embarrassment.

Have you ever gone on Yelp to check out reviews for a business, and read a particularly scathing review followed by the business itself commenting? I personally will not patronize a business that airs its issues with customers publicly on social media or review platforms. I even take issue with airing my own complaints about businesses on public forums, because I don’t want strangers knowing the details of my experiences. It’s tough to balance the need for validation and the need for privacy.

If someone posts a negative review or complaint about your business, take a deep breath and try not to take it personally. Being defensive will only hurt your business, and further impact that guest’s perception of you. Contact the complainant discreetly, but mention in a comment that you’ll be doing so. Have a plan of action for what you’ll do to fix the problem this customer experienced, and be gracious about it!

I can’t guarantee you’ll never have to deal with dissatisfied customers (though hopefully the number is small), but having a positive attitude and a plan can help alleviate the stress and uncertainty that come with handling complaints.