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Customer Service: What to Do When Things Go Wrong

Monday, October 24, 2016

by Kelly Weaver, Small Business Development Center Regional Director

As we embark on the busiest retail season of the year, a focus on customer service is important.  Let’s face it, no matter how well trained your staff, things can still go wrong.  While companies providing good service try to limit those occurrences as much as possible, a company can truly set themselves apart by the way a bad situation is handled.  Your response could be the difference between winning over a customer for life and creating a vocal detractor of your business. 

Here are some specific steps to Professional Recovery – how to manage difficult customer situations – as shared by South Dakota business trainer Jim Kellar1. 

1. Listen to Hear the Complaint – Listen carefully and ask questions to confirm your understanding.  Stay calm and use the time to consider options while helping the customer move from complaining to problem solving.

2. Apologize, Don’t Blame – Be empathetic and reassure the customer that you will work to resolve the problem while not accepting or placing blame.  Most customers really don’t care how the problem happened or whose fault it is; they just want it fixed.  Your positive approach will help keep the situation from escalating.  Train employees to memorize difficult messages so they can deliver them with confidence. 

3. Ask What the Customer Would Like – By asking their input, the customer becomes a partner in the discussion thus making it harder from them to be an adversary.  Your ‘standard fix’ may not be beneficial to a customer.  If someone is just passing through your community, a discount on their next visit could be useless.  Most people are reasonable and will not request an unreasonable remedy.  For those that do…

4. Tell the Customer Specifically What You Can and Can’t Do – Smile and tell them honestly that you can’t honor their request but give them options of what you can do.  Most will enter into this discussion and come to agreement on a solution that works for them.  For those few customers who may persist and potentially disrupt other customers, lead them out of the area to a private place where a manager can provide assistance.

5. Follow Up – First follow through with the solution as promised, and then check back to make sure it was satisfactory.  Last, but not least, thank them for bringing the problem to your attention.

As uncomfortable as these situations can be, you want customers to speak up about problems because that is the only way they can be addressed and fixed to everyone’s satisfaction.  It is also the only way you have a chance of salvaging that customer relationship for the future.  

1Jim Kellar can be contacted at or 605.940.9238 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Kelly Weaver is the Regional Director of the Small Business Development Center which offers free, confidential business consulting to start up and existing businesses.  She can be reached at (605) 626-2565.  The Center is hosted by Northeast South Dakota Community Action Program.

Category: GROW SD

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The GROW South Dakota Organizations Have had a Remarkable Few Years!

NESDEC celebrated 42 years in 2020, closing 60 business loans for a total of $3.8 million.

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GROW South Dakota
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