How To Deal With An Unhappy Customer Who Doesn’t Want A Refund


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Service based business owners get to meet a wide array of customers. A majority of them are naturally who visit you expecting a good experience, and leave with one. Then there are those customers who are unhappy with the service and expect the business to waive the fee or provide them something extra for free. Finally, there are those customers who are genuinely unhappy with your service and do not want a refund or a free extra.

It is this last category of customers who could inflict the greatest damage in terms of a business’ reputation. Customers who post negative reviews on websites like Yelp are often derided by business owners as people who seek vengeance for not being offered the bill waiver. Such reviews are also taken with a pinch of salt by other potential customers because there is always this minority of customers who threaten businesses with negative reviews if they didn’t get what they want. But customers who offer genuine negative criticism and do not want anything in return often generate greater credibility. Their reviews are thus taken more seriously by potential customers and can therefore tarnish your business’ reputation.

So how do you deal with such customers? I talked to Richard Finley who owns ‘EMG‘, a beauty salon at Riverview near Tampa. According to Richard, the beauty salon business sees a lot of customers who belong to this category. That’s because unlike restaurants, a haircut done bad cannot be reversed quite easily. Customers are often emotional about their hair and a bad job can often create significant impact on your business reputation.

Richard says the first rule in business is to patiently let the customer display their unhappiness. Yes, there could be times when the customer is verbally abusing you. But hold back from defending yourself and accept your mistake, if there is one. Most customers calm down after they have vented out their disappointment and are willing to hear your side of the story if you appear genuinely concerned. “At this point, I ask the customer what is it I can do to let them know that I am genuinely sorry and would like to make up for it”, Richard says. This strategy not only helps the transaction from getting ugly, but also leaves a small chance for the customer to give you another chance.

Sometimes, there are no second chances. Take the case of Priority Pickup, a Perth based airport transfer company. Jay Barnett, the owner of the company tells me that there can be instances where a car breakdown or a wrong turn could end up with customers missing their flight. There cannot be a monetary compensation that business owners like Jay can offer to his customers for such instances. “We did have one such instance where one of my customers was visiting their ailing sibling and a car breakdown meant they missed their flight. I offered to pay the entire cost for a second flight. Luckily, the airline staff were helpful and arranged for another booking at a very small additional fee”. Jay says his chauffeurs now educate their customers about the importance of starting early to airports and there have not been another such instance.

No two customers are alike for entrepreneurs who own service businesses. It is always important to understand the issues from the perspective of the customer before jumping in to defend your business or team. The customer may not always be right. But when they are unhappy, they are right to let you know and it is the prerogative of every business owner to figure a way out to make them happy on the way back.

Rita Klapper
University of Huddersfield
Rita Klapper is a lecturer at the University of Huddersfield. She teaches Customer Relationship Management.


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