Emotional needs Featured

10:13am EDT October 31, 2002
My 2-year-old son had been sick for 15 days, and after repeated calls and visits to the pediatrician, my husband and I were frustrated and angry.

At 8:20 a.m. on that 15th day, I called the pediatrician again. The nonemergency messaging system at the doctor's office promises that a doctor or nurse would return calls within 90 minutes.

I left an irate and probably irrational message demanding that SOMETHING be done for my sick child, and when I had not received a return call by 11 a.m., I called another pediatrician. My son's original doctor returned my call at 8:30 that evening, and only apologized for not getting back to me sooner when I asked why it took so long.

She said she had misunderstood the message and assumed I had spoken with the nurse, not left a message on the phone message system.

After discussing my son's case, I was still dissatisfied, both with my son's treatment and with mine as a customer. The bottom line was, she had not acknowledged my anger -- justified in her opinion or not -- and hadn't addressed my concerns until 12 hours after my call.

Every business makes mistakes, and any business can produce an irate customer. But it's how you address that customer and turn that experience around that can make or break your company.

As a former customer service manager, I know through training and experience that the first thing you need to do is acknowledge the customer's emotions. Ignoring them doesn't make them go away, and can escalate the situation. And you never wait 12 hours to return an unhappy customer's phone call, even if you don't have answers.

As I said to the pediatrician, just a call back -- within the first few hours of my call -- to let me know she was looking into the situation would've gone a long way toward defusing my anger.

Whether there was a mistake made at your end or not, apologizing for the confusion and inconvenience is part of turning around the disgruntled customer. Happy customers rarely spread the word about the wonderful experience they had with you, while unhappy customers (like me) will most certainly complain about you to as many people as they can.

And the result may not be just the loss of that customer, but of potential customers as well.