Sometimes, when it comes to operating a small business, it takes a little more than the Golden Rule to keep customers happy. Stuff happens, right?

It doesn’t really matter whether the circumstances are beyond your control or the customer is just naturally disagreeable or cantankerous or unpleasant. As a small business owner, part of your job is providing exceptional customer service by putting out fires and making unreasonable people happy.

Bad things happen to good small business owners, but don’t let the pressure of the moment get you flustered. Instead, be prepared for that faulty product or that employee who rubs your customer the wrong way by remembering the basics of good customer service.

1. Never Be Afraid to Say I’m Sorry

Apologies are miracle workers. A simple “I’m sorry for your inconvenience” right off the bat will often smooth a customer’s ruffled feathers and make it easier to find a workable resolution to any problem. Whether the problem is your fault or not, care about your customer enough to apologize — and waste no time in offering it.

2. Understand What Went Wrong

Give the customer time to explain what happened and air their frustrations. First of all, if you don’t find the time to listen, they’ll find someone who will. And you probably don’t want that. Second, you need to know exactly what happened in order to prevent it from happening in the future.

3. Address Complaints Like a First Responder

Learn the art of small business triage. If you’ve got an unhappy customer at the counter and the phone rings, let someone else pick up the phone or let it go to voicemail. If you receive a customer complaint via email, don’t wait three days to reply. Negative comments and complaints need your immediate attention, so treat them like the emergencies they are.

4. Deliver on Your Promises

Remember what they say about an ounce of prevention. If you meet your clients’ expectations at every turn, you can avoid many problems in the first place. Also, if you promise a free meal for your customer’s trouble, don’t hand them a coupon for 10% off. Say what you mean and keep your promises.

5. Own Your Mistakes

Never assume your customers are blind to what’s going on behind the scenes. Don’t blame others for your mistakes or make excuses for your errors. To do otherwise is to add insult to injury. Just acknowledge the mistake and do what you can to make things right.

6. Empower Your Employees

Nothing is more frustrating for a customer than to hear that nothing can be done to rectify the situation. Give your employees the power to make your customers happy whenever possible. Don’t force customers to go to a manager when a small freebie or immediate discount can be offered by your cashier or waitress.

7. Realize Some People Are Never Happy

Some customers will never be satisfied no matter how many times you say I’m sorry or how many ways you offer to fix the problem. Don’t let these people affect the way you do business with the rest of your customers. Let go of what you can’t change, and greet the rest of your customers with a friendly smile.

Sometimes we all need a little customer service refresher. After all, running a small business is hard work!

You can read about a recent experience I had with poor customer service here. Make sure you scroll through the comments — lots of great tips and advice provided!

What do you do to deal with complaints and keep your customers happy?