Regardless of how well you run your business, customer complaints are inevitable – it’s how you deal with them that really matters.
Ignoring complaints or handling them poorly is a sure way to add insult to injury and damage your company’s reputation. On the other hand, a complaint that is managed well, can win you a lifelong customer. Here are some practical tips to help you handle customer complaints quickly and efficiently.
Have a procedure staff understand
A complaints-management procedure is only effective if everyone understands how to implement it. So, once you’ve formulated your procedure – see tips below for guidance – make sure all staff who have direct contact with customers understand it and know how to respond to complaints.
Listen and learn
When a complainant first makes contact, introduce yourself and state your position. Listen to what the customer has to say and note down all the key details of the complaint. Some customers can be angry, unreasonable or long-winded, but you should stay calm and avoid interrupting them unless it’s to offer the occasional note of empathy, such as “I understand”, “Sorry to hear that”. Once customers have had their say, they’re likely to be easier to deal with, although staff should not be expected to tolerate abusive or offensive language.
Acknowledge their complaint
Briefly apologise for any convenience they have experienced. You’re not offering a formal apology at this stage, simply being polite and expressing some empathy. Thank the customer for bringing the matter to your attention. Remember, a legitimate complaint can highlight a flaw or weakness in your operation.
Do you understand the complaint?
Briefly, paraphrase what they have just told you from your notes. This will help to eliminate any misunderstanding. It also shows you are taking the complaint seriously and want to resolve the matter. If necessary, ask for more information to help you fully understand what has happened – just ask if it’s okay to ask them one or two questions before doing so.
Explain what you will do next
Explain what you plan to do as a result of their complaint but only commit to something you know you can deal with. If you need to refer the complaint to your line manager or investigate the matter further, tell the customer when they can expect to hear from you again.
Confirm they are satisfied with this arrangement
Check the customer understands what happens next, who will contact them and when they can expect to hear back from you. Confirm they are happy with this and ask them if they want to add anything to what they’ve already told you before ending the exchange.
Investigate the complaint
The type of complaint will inform your next step. If the complaint is serious with potentially legal consequences, refer it to your legal advisor. In any case, make sure the issue is fully investigated. This way you can be confident that the customer will be provided with a definitive answer. If it’s taking longer than expected to find out what, if anything, has gone wrong, keep the customer informed so they don’t feel they have been forgotten or their complaint dismissed.
Brief your colleague
If the complaint has been passed to someone else to deal with, make sure they are fully briefed before contacting the customer. It can be extremely annoying for customers to be asked to repeat their complaint all over again. It doesn’t reflect well on the company and they can feel as if they’re being passed from pillar to post.
If you establish the customer’s complaint is justified, you should apologise on behalf of the company and offer to make any appropriate restitution. This may take the form of a sending out replacement goods or offering a discount for a product or service. You may also want to ensure that the customer is recognised in future when they next use your services. If appropriate, you may also want to thank them for them for bringing a particular problem to light and assure them steps are being taken to address this.
Dealing with an unjustified complaint
Not every complaint is justified or reasonable so be prepared to respond accordingly. Be polite, while rejecting any demands for compensation and explain how you think the misunderstanding may have occurred. If possible, say what you are able to offer as a gesture of goodwill on behalf of the company. Remember, you’re still dealing with a customer, even if they happen to be wrong on this occasion.
It’s important to respond quickly to all complaints including those which appear on social media. Once the issue has been resolved, ask the complainant to consider removing their comment, or be sure to post your own statement saying how the issue has been resolved.
Learn from complaints
Once a complaint has been dealt with, review your procedures to ensure the same issue doesn’t come up again by improving systems or by providing additional support and training for staff.