Customer complaints are inevitable. Most of them are genuine and warranted, whilst some of them are not. Despite what we have always been told, the customer is not always right, but you need to handle complaints as if this were true! Regardless of the reason, complaints must be all dealt with in a professional manner if you want to maintain a positive relationship with your customers and encourage loyalty. Whilst there are a number of key strategies you can employ to successfully address grievances, there are also certain approaches one must avoid at all times.
Be polite. The customer is unhappy and may approach you in a defensive and hostile manner. It’s easy to feel immediately attacked when this happens, but remember: it’s not a personal attack on you. He or she is unhappy with their experience. If you are rude and mirror their negative behaviour, the problem will escalate quickly. This can be easily avoided by remaining calm and professional.
Pay attention. Allow the customer to air his or her grievance properly. Listen carefully and don’t interrupt. They are more likely to calm down quickly if you allow them to speak freely. So often, people who handle customer complaints will cut you off mid-rant, or shut off when you’re explaining the reason for your dissatisfaction. If you do this, you’ll miss important information and the customer will realise you were not paying attention. Make sure you get all the facts and take it from there.
Acknowledge and empathise. By showing genuine concern and acknowledging the customer’s dissatisfaction, he or she will feel like you care and that you’re taking their complaint seriously. Make it clear that you understand why they are unhappy and that you want to help them. By doing so, their anger and frustration will be more easily diffused because you’re demonstrating that you’re on their side. Say that you are sorry for their dissatisfaction. And mean it. This is so important. If you made a mistake, own it. If you didn’t, politely explain the situation to the customer to help them understand the situation.
Fix the problem. If you can rectify the problem to the customer’s satisfaction, do it without hesitation. However, you may not be able to correct the mistake that has been made – perhaps it’s too late – but you can offer a solution to make up for the inconvenience and error. This may involve providing the customer with a full refund and complimentary product or service. Communicate with the customer to determine what they expect from you and what would make them happy. The solution may not be ideal for you, but if it guarantees a positive outcome for the dissatisfied party, you should make every effort to meet their expectations.
Follow up. Once you have rectified the issue, get in touch with the customer to find out if they are happy with the solution. This is the only way to determine if your strategy is effective. It also demonstrates your care and commitment to the customer. This is something they will appreciate and remember, so they’re more likely to think positively about their experience and your business.
Be rude or argue. This should be a given, but it’s clearly not because we’ve all had terrible customer service experiences following a complaint. It can be hard work dealing with angry customers, but they usually have good reason to be unhappy. If you’re rude to someone when they are complaining, you’ll just make them even angrier and the situation will escalate. You’re not trying to win an argument, you’re trying to minimise damage.
Belittle the complaint. If you trivialise the customer’s complaint or speak to them in a patronising manner, you’ll give them impression that you just don’t care and that their experience is unimportant. If it wasn’t for your customers, you’d have no business. So just remember how vital their experiences and perceptions are, even if you think they’re being dramatic or expecting too much.
Underestimate their influence. You may think “it’s just one person, what does it matter?” That’s a dangerous stance to take. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful and can make or break a business. Complaints can have a domino effect, so treat each one with the utmost importance. Eat a bit of humble pie and you’re more likely to retain custom and increase sales.
Implementing a complaint-handling strategy
A clear and consistent complaint-handling strategy is essential for all businesses. You need to prepare for all eventualities and have a plan of action ready for when you need to use it. And you will need to use it at some point.
It’s important to ensure all members of your team are aware of your complaint-handling procedure and are trained appropriately. Role play can be a really effective and fun way to improve skills in this area but you also have to choose your complaints team wisely.
Certain people are better suited to handling grievances because of their general disposition, whilst others are simply not great at dealing with stressful situations and irate people. Make the most of their individual strengths and abilities by choosing the right people for the right tasks.
Receiving complaints can be a positive thing for your business because it draws attention to areas of weakness that you may be unaware of. Complaints also present the opportunity to build a bond and positive relationship with customers. Use these unfortunate experiences to your advantage – show the customer just how much they meant to you and how far you’re willing to go to make them happy.