by Lori Prosio 

In a previous column, I talked about the importance of ensuring that your customers and clients feel satisfied with your customer service efforts. I also outlined several common mistakes that can lead to an unhappy customer — and lost business — such as not listening, not having quality control, and not being responsive.

But suppose you’re already in the midst of a customer service crisis?

I recently found myself in such a crisis — as the customer – when dealing with a local Sacramento used-furniture dealer. Not only did I come out of the sales experience feeling extremely dissatisfied, I was annoyed at the lack of professionalism, shocked at the rude behavior, and determined never to give the company my business again.

So what went wrong, and as a small business, how can you learn from it? Here are a few tips from my experience that might help.

Be professional

When I initiated the transaction with the salesman, I was in the market for a very specific item. When trying to make the sale, the salesman was helpful and quick to respond. However, as the process wore on he became difficult to deal with, unresponsive and unaccommodating. In fact, there were points in the discussions where he was downright rude and condescending. A disagreement with a customer, regardless of the cause, should never result in your loss of professionalism.

Take responsibility

Let’s face it. Sometimes things go wrong in a business transaction. When you make a mistake, it’s important to be accountable and take responsibility. Never place blame or point the finger at the customer, who most likely is looking for you to take responsibility and fix it. Blaming the customer is just bad form. Lose the ego, keep the customer.

Be honest

Revenue generation is key to business. But revenue that’s being generated by hook or by crook can only lead to one thing: a sullied reputation. In my case, I was promised a certain item, and what was delivered was entirely different, yet I was charged for it anyway. If you can’t legitimately meet the needs of your customer — be honest and just say so. Try to offer an alternative, or kindly turn down the opportunity. Promising a client something you can’t actually deliver just to make a sale is neither a smart business strategy, nor will it result in a long-term customer. Being honest will keep your reputation and credibility intact.

Acknowledge the issue

It might be necessary for you to offer the customer the opportunity to speak to someone else in management, especially if you feel like you’ve done all you can to remedy the situation. It shows the customer that you care enough about the issue to ask someone else to help fix it, and removes you from an already negative interaction.

Say you’re sorry

In the end, a simple “I’m sorry” goes a long way to helping you resolve a customer issue. But be careful how you say you’re sorry, or you could do more damage than good. Don’t bother with something like “I’m sorry you feel that way,” because that’s not a genuine apology.

Even if a miscommunication was at the helm of the disagreement, accepting responsibility, apologizing and trying to find a way to make the situation better will provide a much better outcome than finger wagging at your customer, or accusing them of being at fault.

This article originally appeared in the May 23, 2014 edition of the Sacramento Business Journal.