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Complaining customers come with the territory of running a service-oriented business. Unfortunately, they can prove to be the bane of your existence and the end of your spa’s good reputation if you and your staff don’t know how to handle them properly. In Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet (Evolve Publishing, 2012), author Ron Kaufman shows how you have two options when dealing with complaining customers. You can either treat them like the pains in the neck they are, or appreciate them and use the opportunity to improve your spa. Needless to say, you’ll be in business a lot longer if you choose the latter. According to Kaufman, one complaining customer really represents numerous customers with the same problem who didn’t complain. “For every person who actually comes to complain to you, there is a quantum number who won’t come to you,” he says. “They’re the ones who go off and tell somebody else, complain about you online, and take their business elsewhere.” Here, Kaufman shares tips on using customer complaints to uplift your service.

  • Thank them for their complaint. That’s right, start by thanking them for reaching out. “Always keep in mind that customers don’t have to come to you at all,” says Kaufman. “They could have simply taken their business to your competitor. When customers give you the opportunity to recover their service, be grateful.”
  • Don’t be defensive. Granted, it’s easier said than done. However, getting defensive doesn’t help resolve the situation. “When a customer complains, they’re doing so because they feel wronged in some way,” says Kaufman. “You don’t have to agree with what they’re saying, but you do have to hear them out. That’s how you keep the conversation moving in a positive direction.”
  • Acknowledge what is important to them. Keep in mind that even if you don’t agree with a complaint, it reveals something about what your spa didn’t deliver to the client. “When you validate what customers value, you aren’t agreeing with them that your service is slow or that your staff is rude,” says Kaufman. “You’re saying, ‘We agree with you on what you find important and what you value, and we want to deliver in those areas.’”
  • Apologize once, upfront. Anyone who has worked in a service industry knows the customer is not always right. That doesn’t mean they don’t still deserve your respect. “You don’t have to tell your customers you were wrong, but you should apologize for the inconvenience they’ve experienced,” says Kaufman. “When you do so, you’re showing understanding and empathy for their discomfort, displeasure, or inconvenience.”
  • Explain your spa’s desire to improve. If a client is complaining about a noisy treatment room, express how offering a tranquil environment is your goal. “Show you are sincere about your commitment to do well in the areas the client values,” says Kaufman. “At the very least, you can say, ‘I’m going to make sure everyone in the company hears your story. We don’t want this to happen again.’ When you express the company’s desire to improve, you start on the path to rebuilding its credibility with the customer.”
  • Educate your customers. Be sure to answer any questions they might have and provide useful information whenever possible. “If they ask a question you can’t answer or don’t know the answer to, tell them you’ll find out the answer and get back to them,” says Kaufman. “And then, actually follow through.”
  • Recover. Although you may fear being taken advantage of if you offer a voucher, gift card, discount, or freebie, it’s rarely a reality. Show complaining clients you care, even when you feel your spa and staff did everything right. “Offer customers something and then explain that you’re doing so as a gesture of goodwill or as a token of your appreciation,” says Kaufman.
  • Give serial complainers an out. As you’ve probably already discovered, some people just love to complain. These are the folks who will never be satisfied. When your best efforts just don’t measure up, give clients an out by suggesting that although they’re always welcome, they might prefer another spa that is better able to meet their needs. 

“Your customers are not your enemy,” says Kaufman. “It’s sometimes hard to remember that when you’re involved in a tense complaint situation, but they’re essential to your business, and you really are both on the same side. Customers want the products and services you provide, and you want to give it to them. When you treat complaints as opportunities to build loyalty, you can create customers for life and uplift your entire company in the process.”