"The customer is always right...” Right?
Nope, not all the time.
Any small business owner who has been in the industry for a while knows there are times when a customer is wrong. Whether they misunderstood your product or company, exhibit poor treatment of you and your staff, or make an utterly irrational request, there is a right way to graciously and tactfully correct your customers.
Your customers are the heart and soul of your business. All it takes is just one wrong move, and you could end up with an offended customer storming out the door, ready to tell the world about your terrible customer service. You can see how that can quickly turn into lost revenue. How we tackle these situations is a make-or-break factor in our relationship with them.
This article will discuss the best ways to approach a customer when they are wrong. Remember, customers are not always right, but they can always be satisfied.
1. Empathy and Emotional Intelligence is Key
Let's say a customer angrily storms into your pet shop business with their pet fish as they walk past your front door with the big, flashing sign that says, “Paws and Fur: One Stop Shop for Your Furry Friends.” And no matter how many times you explain to them that your business doesn’t cater to aquatic animals, they are adamant about having you take in their pet fish just because they’ve seen somewhere online that your business is, well, a pet shop. Obviously, you are not the provider they (and the poor fish) need.
There are countless instances where things don’t make sense in the eyes of the business, but for the customer, their perception is their reality. In heated situations like this, a good amount of empathy and emotional intelligence always come in handy. A good leader can help alleviate the situation and influence their customer’s emotions and reality by listening and empathizing with their customers well. Listening to your customers and making them feel valued by sincerely hearing out their sentiments and needs can resolve and diffuse these circumstances.
And hey, after listening to their concerns about their pet fish, gladly point them to the nearest fish shop, and no, we don’t mean the market.
2. If The Customer Doesn't Stick To Their End Of The Agreement, Be Ready To Walk Away
Say you run a service-based bakery business where you deliver freshly- baked pastries from your oven straight to your customers’ offices or homes. You provide piping-hot goodies as they agree to make their recurring payment on time.
While you are willing to create alternative and flexible payment arrangements, if they don’t hold up their end of the agreement and suddenly fail to comply with their payment promptly, always be ready to terminate your services and walk away.
This goes for more than just payments. It can apply to other business terms and conditions as well. Let’s say you run a rental service for moving containers with terms and conditions your customer agreed to, which include to return your products without any blemishes or damages. If they fail to do their part of the agreement, terminate and say goodbye.
Everyone has responsibilities in a business. This goes both for you as the service provider and your customer. Don’t forget to mention the penalties in the agreement.
3. What’s Your Mission Statement Again?
Do you know why customers are not always right? Oftentimes, when they make demands, they see based on their agenda, and not the bigger picture. When a customer request doesn’t make sense, you can always refer to your small business’ mission statement as a litmus test.
For instance, you run a vegan/vegetarian restaurant, and here comes a customer utterly offended about the vegetarian bacon on her salad. She demands the real thing!
If the demand doesn’t align with your business’ values, referring to this declared mission statement may help the customer change their perspective.
4. Suggest An Alternative Solution
Again, the customer isn't always right, but you can always make them leave your store satisfied. For requests or demands that don't make sense or are just impossible for you to provide, it’s good if you can paint alternate scenarios for them to be able to envision the difference.
If a customer is demanding something and you know it's a path that will hurt them, tell a story of a time you’ve seen someone else take that path and describe what happened. You can also share a story of a time someone has successfully made it out of a similar situation. Remember, factual evidence is vital.
When a customer stands firm in their belief, offering a compromise or alternative solution is an excellent way. Say, "I won't be able to do that, but here's what I can do." Always have something in your back pocket that you can offer to show you are listening and that you care. If the customer continues to adamantly demand something, do your best to give it to them.
This way, everyone is satisfied in the end.
5. To Provide The Best Solution, Seek To Understand First
When customers come to you with a problem, oftentimes, they are absolutely clueless about how to best solve it themselves. I mean, that’s why they’ve run to your desk. When you thoroughly understand their problem, the solution you initially see may be different from what they want or need. Listen intently, repeat their issue to them to ensure you are both on the same page, then patiently reveal how your solution would better solve their problem.
Another tip we want to share with you when you are faced with an unusual problem is to ask questions. While it may sound strange initially, there’s always good intent behind an unusual request. Ask them what brought them to their conclusions and find the exact outcome they want.
Sometimes the customer has made a wrong assumption…and sometimes, we are the ones on the wrong track.
And who knows, the more you listen to your customers’ demands and requests, you might start to realize aspects in your business that you need to improve. Your customers can transform your company for the better if you listen well. Treat every interaction with them as an opportunity to collect quantitative and qualitative feedback on real experiences with your company.
6. Never Tolerate Inappropriate Customer Behavior
There are times when a customer's behavior toward you and your staff is inappropriate and unacceptable. You should anticipate situations that will cause customers to behave poorly and proactively address them.
In some cases, when customers get the impression that their concerns are not being heard or acted upon as urgently as they want, they get angry and lash out at your people. Of course, there are several ways to pacify the situation: empathizing, offering alternative solutions, etc. However, when their behavior gets demeaning and involves foul language or physical and verbal abuse, let them know sternly that their behavior will not be tolerated, even at the risk of losing a customer.
Your customers should always be treated with respect, but so should you and your team.
7. Make Customers Feel Valued, Even When They Are Wrong
We live in a world where everyone expects to get what they want when they want it. You can avoid a lot of customer churn through processes clearly stated on your website, agreements, and repeated reinforcement in communications. So when things go wrong, you can just assume that the client wasn’t paying enough attention. Always be ready to guide them with kindness, compassion, and professionalism.
Customers want better answers, not criticism. We all make wrong assumptions about things we don’t fully understand, but nobody wants to have their wrongs shoved at their faces. So make sure you don’t make your customers feel inferior or shamed because they made the wrong assumption.
Remember, it’s not about being right – it’s about making your customers look and feel great throughout the experience. That’s the foundation of a trusting relationship.
8. Ethics Over Customer Satisfaction, Always
Sometimes you may encounter customers who will go as far as requesting actions that would be immoral, dishonest, or illegal. While we must do everything we can to create an excellent experience for any customer, rules of law and our business’ core values and ethics should always be treated as top priorities. If a customer can’t abide by either of those, it is not a customer you would want to keep having business with.
That being said, once you determine a customer may no longer be the right fit for your business, ethically, morally, or work-wise, let them go so you can focus on better fitting customers.
Times Have Changed
“The customer is always right” is a long-beloved mantra in the business world. The goal didn't change: to deliver the best possible experience to customers. But never at the expense of you and your team. None of this is easy, and we all hate to find ourselves caught up in a churn, but it’s worth the effort. When your customer experience strategy has a tactful and thoughtful approach that balances the needs of both you and your customers, you’re on the right path.