The Art of the Turnaround: 5 steps to turn any customer frown upside down.

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Just this past week I was eating at a local restaurant when I found a gigantic, long, brown, curly hair in my food. I actually had to extract part of it from my teeth. Disgusting! While the situation was grounds to have an irrational freakout, the staff handled it beautifully. Even to the point where I have an even more favorable opinion of the company.

An unhappy customer is an inevitable fact of life for any business. You can have the greatest event or company ever and you can still find someone that will be unhappy about something. While there will always be people who are just unhappy because the sky is blue, what do you when you have a glitch, misstep, or unforeseen circumstance?

With today’s variety of digital megaphones, one bad review, disparaging comment, or critical tweet can be devastating to a business.

What you do right when something goes wrong could be the most influential factor in determining customer happiness.

Here are 5 ways you can take any messy situation with a grumpy customer and turn it around for your good.

1. Take Immediate Action

The only thing that can exasperate an unhappy customer more is putting their issue on the back-burner. If they feel like they are being given the runaround, their emotions might take them to scary places and inspire them to start making some silly threats. The millisecond I made an employee aware of the situation, the team went into action to make me a brand new meal that moment.

2. Own it 100%

Even if the situation is not your direct fault, customers don’t appreciate any blame-shift in the middle of an issue. Never issue fake apologies like, “We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused” — which is the most infuriating thing you can be told when something is wrong. The restaurant employee flat out said, “We’re sorry and we’re fixing it.” I heard, “we’re terribly sorry” no less than 10 times. I eventually had to tell the poor woman that I totally understood and she did not need to keep saying sorry. Nonetheless as a customer, it felt good to have total responsibility taken.

3. Tell The Truth and Nothing But The Truth

Always tell the truth when situations go wrong. People are surprisingly reasonable when you are honest. If you at all try and cover your a** or tell half truths, the customers will unleash their anger and may never forgive you. More information is always better.

4. Don’t Just Make It Right, Make It Better

The restaurant employee didn’t just replace my meal, they brought over two gigantic cookies for us to enjoy and promised the entire table free ice cream. That was no small gesture as we had young 4 kids present. They were thrilled to pieces to have free ice cream. And let me tell you, those were the biggest ice cream cones I have ever seen. Sometimes saying, “We won’t let this happen again” is not enough. If you can make the situation better than before for the person, do it. Make it better in addition to making it right.

5. Bring People In Authority Into The Dialog

Part of the customer frustration life cycle is expressing frustration to someone in authority. The store manager came and visited my table to talk to me and express her sincere apologies. Even though I had no interest in venting, the gesture was sincere and appreciated. Sometimes customers may be unnecessarily harsh with people who have no authority. It’s refreshing when your experience, frustration and complaints can be heard from someone at the top.

Final Thoughts

Certainly the experience was unpleasant, but the how the company managed a potentially volatile and embarrassing situation was stellar. While I already liked the restaurant before, I like the restaurant even more after this unpleasant situation. I believe deep down, customers are quite reasonable when the situation is handled kindly and truthfully. But because so many customers have experienced poor service by other companies, they anticipate the same from you.

While you can never plan for everything to always go right, you can certainly plan to have the right response plan.

By taking these steps, not only can you deescalate the situation you might restore hope in a fading tradition of putting the customer first and make a new fan.