How to manage a cleaning business and respond to criticism without burning bridges.

If it hasn’t already happened, the day will come when you see, nestled within so much positive feedback, the dreaded “one-star” review on Yelp for your cleaning service. “ABC Cleaners is corrupt,” it might say, “never use this service!” A customer might accuse you of being overpriced or neglectful. They might even say that you have no idea how to manage a cleaning business.

Or maybe you get an e-mail directly from a client, denouncing your services and swearing they’ll never work with you again, all over a small misunderstanding.

Never fear. Your cleaning business isn’t tarnished forever. In fact, if you know how to manage a cleaning business customer dispute the right way, you might even get that unhappy customer to give you a second chance.

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How to manage a cleaning business customer dispute: Keep calm and question on

No matter how much it stings or how tempted you may be to jump to your defenses, don’t. The worst thing you can do when a customer complains either through e-mail or a public forum is to start off by saying you didn’t do anything wrong (even if you didn’t). Doing so will only put your unhappy patron further on the defensive.

Instead, take it one step at a time. Apologize and ask questions. What is the nature of their complaint? Does it have to do with a task that wasn’t completed, or is it something more serious, like a report of theft or vandalism? Demonstrate patience and sympathy as you investigate the complaint. Perhaps most importantly, actively listen before you respond. Active listening means you’re paying attention to the other person instead of formulating your answer while they’re talking. Take time to show them that you are genuinely concerned about their dissatisfaction.

How to manage a cleaning business customer dispute: Be timely

If you receive an e-mail complaint, don’t wait a week to respond to it. Same goes for negative reviews on online forums. That said, don’t jump to answer, either. You might say things that come across as defensive or accusatory. Instead, as soon as you become aware of the complaint, take your time and formulate a respectful, concerned response. Once you’ve done that, send it or post it right away so that the customer knows you’ve heard them and you want to try to make things right.

Timely responses not only tell customers that you care about them, but also that you care about your business. If someone complains on a Monday and you don’t get around to responding until Friday, it suggests that you have something better to do, which isn’t going to help much with an unhappy client.

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How to manage a cleaning business customer dispute: Be prepared to take action

If the dispute is something as simple as a cleaning job not being done thoroughly or for the right price, rectify the situation by giving them a free cleaning or a discount. Sure, you might have to eat a few bucks over it, but it’s worth the slight hit if it means you’ve saved a customer (or at least stopped them from tarnishing your business’s name online).

If the dispute is more serious, let’s say an accusation against one of your employees, take it to heart. Question the employees involved, dig as deeply as you can. Respectfully inform the customer that you will get to the bottom of it, and maybe offer a discount on the next cleaning. In any case, don’t send the same employee back to that location. Neither the employee nor the customer will be comfortable if you do. If, on the other hand, you do find reason to suspect an employee, don’t shy away from disciplinary action. You trust your employees or you wouldn’t hire them, but sometimes people make poor choices. Make sure you’re ready to take a stand for your customers just as you would for your employees.

How to manage a cleaning business customer dispute: Don’t let it drag you down

However you choose to resolve the issue, take the steps you deem appropriate and then move on. Complaints and criticisms can be hurtful, especially when you’ve put so much heart and effort into running a successful business. But no cleaning business is perfect. You and your employees will make mistakes, sometimes at the expense of a client. Learn from it what you can and then focus on bringing even better service to your next client.

In the words of the poet, John Lydgate, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”