Small Businesses: Here Are 4 Things You Should Never Say to Customers

Have you ever lost patience while waiting in line because it wasn’t moving fast enough? Or have you felt annoyed after reading a nasty comment directed at you? I know I have.

And I have my limbic system to thank. Also known as the ’emotional brain’, this is the area of the brain that responds to stress and perceived threats. Its influence on emotions and memory is powerful.

That explains why customers rarely forget bad experiences and are twice more likely to talk about them than positive ones. In a nutshell, they are negatively biased.

So, how can a small business turn the situation around? By focusing on that bias to deliver people-centric customer service. And the first step is language.

There are things you should never say to customers. Here are some.

“You Matter to Us”

A few months ago, one of my favorite blogs was redesigned. The homepage looked great, so I decided to click on a post. Upon landing on the page, the content box suddenly slid to the right, unveiling a giant ad. It took me a little while to figure out that clicking to the right would bring the post back in full view. The next times I visited the blog, autoplay videos replaced static ads.

It was frustrating, to say the least. I mentioned the issue on Twitter. The answer from the founder? “No, it’s AWESOME! And the future of websites. And easy to hide with 1 click. or hitting ‘c’ on your keyboard.”

After arguing that the user experience was bad and that it was not my responsibility to click all over the place to be able to read a post, I was told that my feedback would be taken into consideration: “You are special to us. I understand those concerns, and listen to all of them. Constructive criticism always welcome.”

Two months and several reader complaints later, nothing has been addressed on the blog.

“You matter to us” is one of phrases businesses use the most. People hear it whenever they call a customer service line; they also read it every time they complain to companies on social networks. So, it comes off as robotic and insincere, and people know that nothing will happen.

According to the Northridge Group, more than 3 in 10 customers who have used social media for customer service say that the channel does not meet their expectations. And 63% have to mention a business at least twice before the latter starts paying attention. No wonder why, then, only 2% of customers rely on social media for urgent issues!

As a small business owner, you have the opportunity to go beyond the cliché and stand out from the crowd. Do not just promise to help. Take the extra step to deliver a solution that works best for complainers.

“Calm Down” or “Listen to Me”

While some people are more understanding than others, anger has a way to trigger nasty behaviors. However, not responding to or asking customers to relax will make matters worse. They will also find you rude or condescending.

Unlike interactions over the phone, social media allows you to take a short breather. Get off the computer and do something relaxing for a few minutes. Then:

  • Allow the customer to vent
  • Empathize with them. Use phrases like “I see” or “I understand”.
  • Ask some questions to understand the situation better and figure out the best course of action.
  • Offer a solution

Additional tips:

  • Prepare for customer issues in advance. Draft a policy that addresses typical complaints. For inspiration, look at the way other small businesses tackle their own publicly.
  • Update the policy for every new type of complaints.
  • Create a page on your website and add a paragraph in the about section of your Facebook page that highlight how you will deal with complaints, your average response time, and the best media for the fastest response. Refer people to them often.

Swearing or “We’ll Sue You If You Continue.”

In 2013, Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, the owners of Amy’s Baking Company Bakery Boutique & Bistro, were featured on Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsay’s show. One of the most decorated chefs in the world, Ramsay is also notorious for yelling at people and giving them a very hard time.

Well, on that episode, he quit. He could not stand the couple’s attitude anymore. They had been caught not giving service staff tips, admitted to having fired over 100 employees, and would not listen to any of Ramsay’s advice.

Things could have died down quietly. Unfortunately, the couple took the nasty comments from social media users very seriously and used Facebook to respond to them. The rant was long and bordering on lunacy. The business owners even threatened to take legal action for what they called a “witch hunt”.

The following day, they claimed that their page had been hacked. However, they never apologized for anything.

Two years later, people continue leaving very negative comments on their Facebook Page and bad reviews on Yelp. Their reputation is for ever tainted.

As a small business, experiencing the ire of customers and online users can be a frustrating experience. Plus, no one is impervious to bad days. However, as mentioned previously, social media is different from other direct customer service channels. You do not have to respond right away. An hour is an acceptable timeframe for many customers.

Remember that people expect courtesy, professionalism, and a respectful demeanor from you at all times. Never swear or threaten them. The reputation of your company is at stake.

“That’s Against Our Policy” or “We Can’t Help”

In 2014, the Union Street Guest House added a clause to its policy: Wedding couples would be fined $500 for each negative online review they or their guests would leave.

After a huge social media backlash and extensive media coverage, the hotel removed the provision, stating that it was “a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago. It was meant to be taken down long ago and certainly was never enforced.” Not according to a former customer, who claims he did get fined.

The result? An average of 1.5-star reviews on Yelp.

As important as your policy is to you, be aware that customers think differently. They much prefer flexibility.

Unhappy people are unruly and a blatant “no” will intensify their frustrations. They will only listen if they feel validated.

To turn a negative experience into a positive one, be kind, own the situation, offer acceptable solutions (like free stuff), and follow up after a couple of days. Even if things are not perfect, people will at least remember your efforts.

For examples of great customer care, read my case studies on Dell and Postmatic.

That’s all for now, folks! See you next Friday for another list of tips to help you take your small business to the next level online.

Is there a topic you’d like me to cover in a future post? Leave your ideas down in the comments!

Cendrine Marrouat Blog Staff Writer, Cendrine Marrouat is a French-born social media coach, curator, and author. She is the founder of Social Media Slant and the #smslantchat Twitter chat. Her latest e-book release, "The Little Big eBook on Social Media Audiences: Build Yours, Keep It and Win", is a comprehensive guide focusing on the four pillars of audience building. Follow her on Google+.

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