The 5-Star Approach To Turning A Customer Experience Around

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No matter who you are, every entrepreneur has had an unhappy customer or follower, at least now and then.

Today I invite you to meet Jonathan Sprinkles, communicator, keynote speaker, author, and self-described “Connection Coach” (and yet another of the great individuals I’ve met through entrepreneurial friend Garrett Gunderson, whose summit I’ll be attending later this week.) It’s the Connections part of Jonathan’s expertise I will address today and in two more columns we’ll post within the coming few weeks. I like him that well, as I hear what he has to say about the reputation-driven entrepreneurial world.

As Sprinkles shared with a league of dental and chiropractic businesses last week, in the reputation economy, bad customer experiences carry astonishing power. Whether or not you ask, your customers speak to you in one of three ways: They may say “thanks,” they like their service, and leave. Or perhaps they don’t like the service, and they say or post something against you. Or, most deadly of all, the biggest group (in the middle of the bell curve) will say nothing at all. When they leave your business you have no idea where their opinions may stand.

Think on this: traditionally, if a customer has liked your service they’ll tell three people. But if they don’t, they’ll tell 11. This is understood, but these are old numbers. In the world of Internet, that “11” may become 11,000. Or 11 million. More than 75% of buying decisions are based on reviews.

“An opinion becomes ‘valid’ just because it is posted,” says Sprinkles. “It doesn’t have to be ‘right’. So little ol’ me with my opinion and keyboard has the ability to affect your income. I can possibly affect you losing your license. I can even influence when you get to retire.”

All thanks to the glory and infamy of the Internet and the reputation economy’s power. As entrepreneurs, then, Sprinkles recommends we learn to love customer feedback. In fact we should welcome and crave everything our customers have to say.

“People only complain about what they care about,” he explains. “If they’re telling you about it, it’s important to them. In that respect, negative feedback is a gift, as the individual is giving you the chance to know about their experience, to take it somewhere, and to fix it.”

To that end, here is Sprinkles’ five star strategy (think of them as the five points on a star) for turning an unhappy customer experience around, as follows:

  • Step One, Thank the customer for telling you. They’re either telling you or they’re telling FaceBook (and if they’ve already told FaceBook, thank them for including you in the list of the people they’ve told).
  • Step Two, This is your chance to diffuse the energy around the experience they’ve had. While the human instinct when you hear a complaint is to answer “fireball for fireball,” squelch the urge. Validate the person’s feelings. If appropriate, you can provide an affirming hand on the shoulder. Your actions and words should convey, “I hear you.” Show proof of your listening by taking down written notes. “I can hear the frustration in your voice. I can tell this has been a bad experience for you.”
  • Step Three, This does not mean admitting or accepting blame for the situation, nor should it ever mean throwing your colleagues under the bus. You can even reinforce the fact that your business has a stellar reputation and that bad situations are rare. But you can genuinely apologize for the fact that the customer’s experience was a bad one. Your willingness to take ownership of the situation provides security and reassurance for them.
  • Step Four, Don’t dwell on why or how the problem happened. Tell the customer how you intend to fix it. Use “we” statements to tell them what the company proposes to do (without overcommitting). Convey the message of “I’ve got this.” Get the customer’s feedback on your proposed solution as well, “Does this make sense to you?”
  • Step Five, Take Review the action plan with the customer. Rebuild trust by honoring your promises. Resolve the situation to the customer’s satisfaction and then take one more step—follow up to see if the customer is fully satisfied with the way the solution’s been met.


That’s it. Five steps that can diffuse most any difficult situation, and in many cases can turn the unhappy customer into a fan.

Speaking of which, what are the things that you can do to encourage a customer to speak up about their experience and even more importantly to speak up publicly by providing you with a product or service review? In a nutshell, says Sprinkles, be sure to invite your customers to share their experience and to recognize and reward them, whenever possible, when they do.

“How are we doing for you?” is a straightforward and appropriate question to ask, followed by “What would it take for me to not only ensure your experience is a good one, but to make it so positive you would be willing to go to this location and leave a positive business review?”

Behavior that is recognized and rewarded is repeated, Jonathan says. Be careful to know the allowable ways to invite and incent your customers within your particular industry or sector, but with these caveats in mind, train employees to ask for feedback directly and to recognize and reward the customers who are not only willing to share their input candidly, but also willing to reward your good service by taking the extra step to provide a review.

The increasing level of dialogue and the virtual guarantee of a good customer experience is a winning proposition for all. I’ll be continuing my dialogue with Sprinkles over the next several weeks, but readers can also connect with him directly at