How to Handle Customer Complaints.
Customer complaints are inevitable, no matter how streamlined your business, or how good your intentions. Whether the complaint is justified or not, they must always be acknowledged and dealt with effectively. By ignoring or dismissing complaints, you are effectively telling the customer that you don’t value their opinions and you are likely to make the problem worse. Your unwillingness to deal with their problem effectively becomes another complaint to add to their list. Most business owners see complaint management as a time-consuming and frustrating process and avoid dealing with the problem in the hope that it will go away. It won’t. Ignoring a problem only makes it bigger and can lead to public negative feedback which can impact future business. Complaints can be resolved quickly and easily if you decide on a process for dealing with them. Make the decision now to resolve complaints efficiently and quickly. This takes the stress away from thinking about how and when each time a complain comes up.
See below for a quick guide to dealing with dissatisfied customers.
Taking the Complaint.
When a customer first makes a complaint, take a step back. It can be difficult to remain impassive in the face of criticism, but an emotional response will only serve to irritate the customer further. There is no point in being defensive. You may be in the right but arguing with the customer will not resolve the problem.
Deal with the problem immediately.
Seriously, whatever you are doing, drop it and deal with the complaint first. Sometimes it’s resolved easily, and your quick attention will take the wind out of it’s sails. Even if you cannot resolve it immediately, just the act of speaking to your customer to let them know you care and that you are prepared to deal with the issue will help. If you’re busy with something that you really can’t leave, acknowledge them as soon as possible. A quick call, text or email to say that you are aware and will call them later will help. If you say you will call, make sure you do.
Give the customer your full attention and listen to the whole problem before responding.
Put yourself in their shoes – if you had a problem, you would want someone to listen to you. Appearing disinterested, or attempting to argue back, will only exacerbate the situation. Let them explain fully what their grievance is before you respond. Apologise. At the beginning you don’t know that you are at fault. Quite possibly, it won’t be your fault. There are customers who complain just to get money off but at this stage, you won’t know that. You don’t have to apologise for the fault but you can say,
‘I’m sorry you feel that way, tell me about it and I will do my best to help you.’
Just being heard sometimes is enough. In home improvements, sometimes the complaint is just that something is different from what they expected, especially if they have bought based on a picture in a brochure and the real product isn’t air brushed, lit and picture perfect.
Try to understand.
You might deal with complaints on a regular basis, and may have handled a similar situation before. However, for the customer, their complaint is unique to them. Treat them as an important individual by listening to their problem in full. In the face of a complaint, it’s easy to be defensive – particularly if you don’t believe you’re at fault. You have to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. If you were on the receiving end of their experience, would you personally be satisfied?
Take time to consider your options.
As long as you’ve contacted your customer and they know you’re on the case, you do not have to provide an immediate solution. Nor do you have to take what they say at face value. You can take time to consider what the correct remedy is and investigate the issue. Just make sure the customer knows what the next step is. It’s easy to panic or jump to conclusions when faced with anger or threatened with litigation. Assure your customer that you sympathise with their situation and that you just want to chat with a colleague/manufacturer and will get back to them. Then just check what the consumer rights are and consider the options and implications.
Take responsibility for the complaint.
As the business owner, you must assume responsibility for the complaint, regardless of whose fault it is. If it was a staff member, deal with that separately. The customer doesn’t need to know how you feel about it. Tell them, ‘I’ll speak to him but as the owner of the business, I want my customers to be happy and I take full responsibility’. Your customer will be full of respect for you. If the blame lies with one particular member of staff, it is often best to remove the customer from their presence. This can defuse tension and emotion, and help the customer to re-evaluate their anger. Each complaint should ideally be handled by one staff member.
If you’re letting someone else deal with the complaint, then let them deal with it. If the person dealing with the situation has to keep asking you, then take it over so that the customer is no further inconvenienced by constantly waiting for an answer.
Finding a Solution.
Once the customer has aired their grievance, you should immediately give a sincere apology. Any number of factors could have contributed to the issue, and you might not be at fault. However, you need to take responsibility for the problem. Sometimes, an apology is all it takes to placate an angry customer. Customers never want to hear excuses. You are fully entitled to briefly explain why they didn’t receive the standard of service they expected. This should take place after you’ve listened to their complaint and made an apology. Make sure this is a valid reason and not an excuse where you are not accepting responsibility.
Sometimes, a complaint will be followed by a request for compensation – typically a refund or a voucher. Customers often haven’t planned beyond making the initial complaint. In these cases, ask the customer for their desired outcome. This makes them feel both involved and valued. Ask them how they would like it to be resolved. Sometimes they don’t want it resolved. They just want to air their grievances. Sometimes they hope that you will offer some kind of recompense. Pride will not allow them to ask outright in case you see their complaint as not valid – just a way to get money back. This often happens when there is a final payment after installation.Every business should have a contingency plan in place for customer complaints. Create something you can quickly and easily offer as a consolatory gesture, such as money-off vouchers or a free product.
Useful Tips for Dealing with Complaints.
Try to remain calm when dealing with a complaint – even if the customer becomes irate or confrontational. Your ultimate aim is to turn their negative experience into a positive one, but arguing back will only make the situation worse.
Complaints should always be resolved as quickly as possible.The aim is to make the customer feel as though their problem is being treated as a priority, without being rushed.
Keep comprehensive records of all customer complaints, from the initial problem to the eventual solution. You can then periodically assess these records, identifying any common complaints and taking steps to improve company processes.
All customer-facing staff members should be trained to deal with complaints. If possible, give your employees some authority when it comes to issuing refunds or other consolatory gestures. Forcing the customer to wait for a manager can make a bad situation worse.
You must not take it personally when a customer complains. Some complaints are inevitable. Even if you complete a perfect job, some people do just like to complain. Try not to let it interfere with your mood or your normal good intentions. Keep it in its place and follow your procedure without getting emotional about it. Business owners have been known to throw in the towel completely after their first complaint as they lose confidence. A percentage of profit must be calculated as an overhead to deal with complaints and calculated when deciding your prices. Remedying a mistake should never put the business at risk. If cash flow is tight and you can’t afford repair or replacement, you are probably one step from closing your doors. Not dealing with the problem is not a solution, as poor feedback can lead to fewer orders and even cancellations.
Face up to it and deal with it as quickly as possible. This really is a time when the cliches are true – ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. In case that’s not clear, it means that if you repair a small hole immediately, you won’t have to repair a big hole later.
Failing to deal with complaints quickly and efficiently can lead to negative public feedback which can devastate your business.