Can This Client be Saved?
Impossible you say. Can’t be done. Someone or something in your company may have screwed up royally. Your product simply failed to perform as promised. It was a complete disaster. The client is really angry. Never in a million years will you be able to do business with this organization again. There’s no going back this time. You’ve burned every bridge – big time!
Not So Fast: Well, maybe not. The very first thing you need to do is to acknowledge that the customer has every right to be angry. It may or may not be your company’s fault, but in any event, it’s the customer’s perception that it is and that’s what is most important. So you can’t wait until the storm blows over. You must address it immediately and in person. You want to give the customer the opportunity to vent his or her anger. You need to understand what happened from his viewpoint. And above all, you have to stay calm, non-defensive, and sympathetic.
Understand the Anger: You should listen very closely to where the anger is really coming from. It is extremely important that you understand the emotions that are driving the anger. The problem may be a technical issue or glitch, but what is really emotionally upsetting the customer? Is it a concern for safety or security that’s been compromised by your product? Is it fear that the customer’s organization may lose face with their constituents? Or is it the fact that the customer placed his trust in your organization and you have let him down? In his mind, you may have made him look bad in front of his peers and superiors for selecting your organization’s product. This can sometimes be the toughest reaction to overcome.
Restate the Problem: Once the customer has spent his fury, you need to calmly and simply repeat the problem in the exact terms he used. You have to acknowledge and affirm what has been communicated without any nuance or shading from you. Ask him to elaborate on specific issues. This will help to diffuse the anger and reassure the customer that you are truly listening and agreeing with his position. Here is where you can begin to turn the situation around. By drawing him out, you are supporting his grievance and are in complete accord with his side of the story.
Take Ownership of the Problem: In the scheme of things, it doesn’t matter what truly was the cause of the customer’s problem. His perspective is all that matters. What will be critically important is for you to take personal ownership of the problem. Don’t pass it off to someone or something else. You are the one the customer is looking to for redress. You represent your company to him and your action or lack thereof will be the biggest factor in your losing or retaining this customer. It isn’t enough to be sympathetic and empathetic. You need to demonstrate that you are in a position to take immediate action to rectify the problem and you won’t rest until the customer’s issue is resolved. This is called a “mea maxima culpa” and it can be a most powerful way to mend a broken relationship.
Find a Solution: Here is where the rubber meets the road. There may or may not be an easy solution to the problem. What is most important is that you convey to the customer you will do everything in your power to provide him a solution as rapidly as possible. Let him know you and your team are working around the clock to fix what is broken. Just knowing that you are willing to go above and beyond for him will go a long way to rebuilding trust. The customer will feel that you are willing to be a champion for him and he will most likely remember this more than he remembers the product failure.
Keep in Touch: Once you’re able to turn the corner with an angry customer you are well on your way to possibly making him the best customer you’ll ever have. He will remember how you went to bat for him and knows you’ll pull through for him in any future engagement. The best thing you can do is to keep in frequent contact, follow up with any solution your company provides, and simply let him know you’re there for him. So, yes you can turn your angriest client into your happiest client. You just have to know how.