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How to handle customer complaints like a pro

March 12, 2022 in Marketing, Mindset

The following article is based on a presentation given by Maria Dorian at the 2021 Maid Summit, hosted and organized by ZenMaid. Maria is the owner of Task Away Virtual Assistants, a company that provides virtual assistant services to maid service owners. Before founding Task Away, Maria owned a maid service for 14 years.

When people start a cleaning service, they study essentials like sales, hiring, and the best cleaning methods. But rarely do people get trained on one of the most inevitable parts of any business: customer complaints.

Without a strategy for handling grievances, it’s easy to be defensive. After all, you’ve worked hard on your business and a complaint can feel like a threat to your livelihood and reputation. It’s a natural reaction, but it rarely leads to good outcomes. 

Maria Dorian, a former maid service owner and founder of Task Away Virtual Assistants, challenges business owners to shift their views about complaints. Rather than seeing complaints as threats or signs of failure, consider them opportunities to make things better. 

Clients who call you when they’re unsatisfied or angry about the cleaning they received are giving you an opportunity to fix something that went wrong in your process. Complaints keep you accountable and can help you become a better business owner. 

On the other hand, customers who cancel their next appointment or post a negative review without contacting you about their dissatisfaction are the ones to worry about. Their silence prevents you from making things right. 

Think of customer complaints as gifts, Maria says. 

So how do you stop taking customer complaints personally? Read on to learn Maria’s secrets for handling customer complaints with ease and managing your mindset so you can move customers from raging angry to super satisfied.  

Let angry customers vent their emotions 

Have you ever had a bad day and called your significant other or friend and just complained, cried, and let it all out? And after you felt much better, right? That’s what you want your angry clients to do.

Let them yell and scream to release their negative emotions. If they sent you an email, get them on the phone.  Remember, they’re not yelling and screaming at you. They’re looking for somebody to resolve their issue. And once they’ve voiced all of their concerns and anger, they’ll be more receptive to hearing about your solutions. 

It’s okay to wait to reply to customer complaints

Just because a client wants to engage with you immediately doesn’t mean you have to. If they catch you at a bad time, or you need to compose yourself before discussing the situation, you can say, “Can I give you a call back when I can give you my full attention?”

Waiting to respond can also give you time to gather more information from your cleaners and office staff so you’ll be prepared with answers and solutions and enter the conversation with more confidence. 

How to get information that will help solve you customer’s problem

When your client seems ready to discuss solutions, ask them questions that will help you clarify their complaints. If you can, interrupt them gently to ask questions that will clarify the situations, such as: 

  • So when you walked in did the entryway floor look dirty? 
  • Was this problem only in certain rooms? 
  • Did you notice spots on the mirrors in every bathroom?
  • Do you see this every time we clean for you?

Keep the conversation positive to get them to lower their defenses. Some supportive things you can say include:

  • I really want to make sure I’m understanding everything correctly. 
  • I see that you paid a premium for the service and it was our job to deliver the service to you – and we failed you.
  • It sounds like we significantly dropped the ball here. Here’s what we’re going to do to fix it.  

Why you shouldn’t give customers their money back

You usually have two options when handling a client who’s unhappy with a cleaning. You can either refund their money or return to their home and address the issues they complained about. 

Refunding a client’s money may be the quickest solution, but it doesn’t fix the problems or make your client less angry. They still might leave a negative review. 

In situations where you don’t want to return to a home, giving the client their money back makes sense. But in most cases, it’s better to send another team to fix the problem – especially if they can do it quickly. 

Sending a team that addresses all the issues they have with the cleaning will change their perception about the value of your service. It gives them a chance to experience the professional cleaning that they expected when they hired you. 

How to handle a re-clean for best results

An opportunity to do a re-clean for an angry client is your chance to shine. Wow your clients by sending your best cleaning team. 

To show your client that you’re determined to make this a perfect cleaning, send a quality field manager to check the home after the second cleaning. If you don’t have a manager who can do this, send another cleaning team. It’s usually worth the expense.

Also, you can always do the final check yourself. This gives you a chance to walk your client through their home and point out all of the things your team did. As you do, continue to empathize with them by saying things like, “I’m really sorry that you went through that, but I’m so glad that we got that fixed for you.”

End your visit with your strategy for preventing problems in the future. 

Don’t forget to end by thanking them for letting you know about the issue and letting you fix it. 

Keep detailed notes about customer complaints

After you’ve addressed a client’s complaint, document all of the details in the client’s file for future reference. Be very specific about what the client complained about and how your team addressed those complaints.

Discuss with your cleaning teams what could have been done better or differently in the first visit and include this information in the client’s file as well. 

If the client books another cleaning, reference your notes and give your cleaning team very specific instructions. 

Helpful phrases you can use when dealing with dissatisfied customers

If angry customers often leave you at a loss for words, here are some phrases to have ready: 

  • “Okay, so it’s obvious something didn’t go right. Can we just scratch today and start all over? Can we do that first thing on Monday morning?” 
  • “I’ve got some good news, and I’ve got some bad news. So the good news is everything is fixable. We can make your house look brand new. The bad news is that you’re going to keep looking at all of these things until we come back on Monday. So can you do me a favor and stop looking at all these things until then?”
  • “We’re going to get this right. I’m going to call you before the cleaning is complete on Monday to make sure everything went as expected.”
  • “I will personally give you my guarantee that I will do everything in my power to prevent that from ever happening to anybody else in the future.”
  • “I’m so embarrassed we dropped the ball like this.”
  • “Thank you for bringing this to my attention and not just firing our company. You did me a huge favor.”
  • “We usually don’t offer refunds, but here’s what we can do…”
  • “I’ve never dealt with a situation like this so what I’m about to say might not come out eloquently, so please forgive me if I stumble.”
  • “There are some amazing cleaning companies out there. And if we can’t make this right for you, then they deserve your business.” 

Phrases to avoid when dealing with dissatisfied customers

Just as there are phrases that can help to calm tense situations with customers, there are phrases that can make angry clients angrier because they lack empathy.  Avoid saying things like the following:

  • “Our policy is …”
  • “Calm down.”
  • “I should have charged you more, but instead I only charged you X.”
  • “We were there all day.”
  • “My cleaning tech said they didn’t do that.”

Don’t blame the problems on the customer. Don’t say:

  • “You didn’t give us enough time.”
  • “You know, your house was really dirty.”
  • “Your house was dirtier than you told us it would be.”
  • “You have a lot of knick knacks that are hard to clean.”

Strategies for preventing customer complaints

Accepting that customer complaints are inevitable doesn’t mean you should stop trying to prevent them.  The following strategies will help minimize complaints:

Establish a friendly relationship right away. When the customer calls for a quote, try to build a connection and trust. That way, if something goes wrong, or they have an issue, they’ll call you to talk it out rather than going straight to Yelp with a negative review. 

Let clients know that you’ll send them a survey after their cleaning. This tells your clients they’ll have an opportunity to voice any concerns and that you care about their opinion. If they don’t complete the survey in a reasonable amount of time, call them to follow up about their cleaning.

Have a good system for quality checks. This will help you spot and fix problems before customers bring them up, or even know about them. Quality checks will also help you evaluate your team’s work. Quality checks are great to do when the client is home so they see that you’re serious about doing a great job. 

Make necessary changes quickly. If there are repeat or serious problems, review your policies and procedures to see if any changes need to be made. If there are, implement them as soon as possible. 

Call to follow-up on bad Yelp or Google reviews. If a negative review pops up, call the client right away to understand why they left the review. Use the same strategy as you would if they called you directly to complain. Offer to do a re-clean. If they agree and the cleaning goes well, send flowers or a small gift to show your appreciation. 

An important thing to remember: Do not ask them to remove their negative review. A lot of times, they’ll take it down on their own, or update it to say you’ve fixed the issue. Asking them to delete the review will make your client doubt the sincerity of your efforts to fix the problems. 

What if the customer is wrong?

Sometimes customer complaints don’t have merit and your team didn’t do anything wrong. In those cases, you proceed as if the customer is right and you do everything you can to let them vent their anger and offer solutions that will lead to their satisfaction. 

In the words of cleaning expert Derek Christian, “Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be successful?”

Let’s all aim to be successful. 

For more tips on how handle customer complaints like a pro, watch Maria’s full talk below:

Learn more:

For more resources on how to grow and perfect your cleaning business, check out the replays from the 2021 Maid Summit, hosted by ZenMaid. The summit featured more than 60 presentations from other maid service owners who shared tools and strategies to help you achieve the highest levels of success in your business. 

If you found this article helpful for your maid service, you may also like:

ZenMaid

About the author: Amar is the founder and CEO of ZenMaid Software, Inc (www.zenmaid.com). He previously started and ran Fast Friendly Spotless, a maid service in Orange County, CA. With the help of customized software to automate work he successfully operated the service in under 30 minutes per day. His goal with the maid service software at ZenMaid is to help other maid service owners do the same.

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