Even the happiest of your customers inevitably will have a complaint at some point. Any number of things can go wrong and will – a product will arrive late or you will miss a deadline — whether the fault lies with your small business or forces outside of your control. The good news is that your customers care enough about the relationship to let you know they are disappointed or unhappy. Far better that than they go away and leave you wondering why.

In any case, when a complaint comes in, how you handle it will impact the relationship with your customer. Getting defensive about the issue, which is a natural response when someone complains, is the last thing you want to do. It will get you nowhere. Far worse, of course, is to suggest your company did nothing wrong and you can’t do anything to fix the problem. Expect your customer to run to your competitor, but not before posting a scathing review of your company on Yelp or one of the other online review sites.

Your best approach when you get a complaint from a customer is to take the criticism and try to diffuse the situation.  Live and professional communication is also important; so as soon as soon as you learn about an issue – no matter where you are — get in touch with your customer.

Here are other suggestions to convey that the ‘customer is always right’ and mean it:

Listen:  Let your customer vent and keep an open mind. Don’t question the validity of the complaint or prejudge. To assure your customer you understand the complaint, repeat it. It’s far easier to fix the problem when you both are on the same page.

Avoid blame: Even if your customer is in the wrong, don’t blame them. Discuss how to resolve the problem in strictly factual terms without trying to establish who is wrong.

Say you’re sorry:  Regardless of the situation and who is at fault, say you are sorry and mean it. More than likely, your apology is really what your customer wants.

Offer a solution: Don’t wait for your customer to ask “what are you going to do about it,” tell them. Describe your plan to turn the situation around. If the problem is complex and a quick fix won’t due, set a time frame for resolution and stick to it.

Follow up: After you’ve resolved the problem, touch base with your customer to ensure they are satisfied and see if there is anything more you can do. Make sure your customer understands how much you value their business.  You might also send them a discount coupon or a gift card as a token of your appreciation for their patience and loyalty.

How you respond to your customer’s complaint says a lot about your business. It’s not about winning or losing when a complaint comes in; it’s about building customer loyalty.