News travels fast in today’s interconnected and social media-based world. Unfortunately for businesses, that means bad news travels fast, too. If a client has an issue with your service or product, it’s important to acknowledge the incident and offer a sincere apology before the message gets out of hand. If you don’t have the benefit of a PR firm handling these kinds of crises for your company, then it’s important to make sure responding to criticism and dissatisfied clients is a specific job responsibility of someone within your company. Consider the following tips to avoid getting caught up in a public relations snafu.
- Be timely in your response. There’s nothing worse in the world of client relations than an unanswered email or an unreturned phone call. If a client contacts you with a concern or a question, 24 hours should be the maximum turn time on your response. For something more urgent—a forgotten meeting or a project mishap—immediate follow up is recommended.
- Be specific; generalizations aren’t sincere. Immediate follow up only works if you’re specific about your mistake. Leaving your client a voicemail or sending an email that says “Hey, sorry about that!” doesn’t let them know what you’re sorry for, and may leave them with more questions than resolutions. Specifically tell them what situation warrants an apology; they already know, but it’s important that you show you do, too.
- Professionalism counts. Two rules when offering specific apologies: Don’t make excuses and don’t point fingers. Your clients should know that you take your job and their projects seriously, so deferring the problem to someone else isn’t the answer. If a client brings a concern to you that wasn’t originally your responsibility, don’t pawn it off on someone else. Take ownership of the situation and track down the root cause outside of the client’s purview. Don’t copy clients on emails that don’t contain answers to their questions.
- Be open to suggestions to prevent similar future events. You never know who will come up with the right answer. It may be the client or the new intern, but keeping an open mind and allowing discussion for process improvement from across the board will keep things running smoothly. There is a better chance that a solution will arise faster if people feel their voices have been heard and acknowledged.
- Don’t ignore criticism on social media. While your typical B2B client may not use social media to express concerns, you can bet a bad message will travel faster on Twitter than any other method of communication. Make sure you have someone assigned to monitor the messages, hashtags, and other mentions your clients or potential clients are using to talk about their experiences with your company. In the event a dissatisfied client expresses their concern on social media, be ready to respond—publicly and privately—to make it right. Acknowledge their concern with a response inline with their original message, and then follow up in a traditional channel. Blending traditional business methods with modern technology is always a work in progress, but social media is a communication tool that isn’t going anywhere, so it’s important you know how to take the good with the bad.
People make mistakes. Clients are sometimes difficult to please. But it’s in everyone’s best interests to take time to acknowledge mistakes and use mutual understanding in a challenging situation to come to a congenial solution.