The thing we all hate happens. We get a customer complaint. It is inevitable that we will all get an unhappy customer at times but it is how we deal with them that matters.

We have two choices. We can either go on the defensive and potentially make matters worse, or we can use the opportunity to learn and improve our business for the future.

Problems are pregnant with possibilities

Generally, unless there is a fundamental fault with the product or service you are providing (and which you need to acknowledge and fix immediately), complaints arise from a misunderstanding between parties.

It may something as simple as an order arriving on a date that the customer believes is late but you believe is on time.  This will lead to you needing to set out your delivery policy in a more clear way.

It may be you supply a product such as a handbag and a customer complaint is the bag is not as large as shown in the picture.  This leads to more details needed with your images. Put the bag against something for scale in pictures or quote measurements.

But whatever the complaint, most can be resolved if dealt with in the right manner.

I met a client recently who had received a complaint and her reaction was to say ‘how dare he?’ and tell me how she was going to phone him and tell him in no uncertain terms how unhappy she was with him.  I can just about guarantee 100% with this attitude that this customer will never do business with my client again and will more than likely tell friends and family never to deal with her again either.

I sat her down and asked her to put herself in the customer’s shoes.  Something had happened that caused him to be unhappy and less than satisfied.  Finding out what this was and how to avoid the situation again in the future was imperative.  She needed to look upon this complaint as an opportunity to improve her business so that she did not find herself in the same situation again in the future and to help her improve customer satisfaction to retain other clients.

And again, very recently, I had someone who lost their key client. Why? Because he dared to complain about the standard of work and she took umbrage at this and had an argument with him over it. She is now left struggling to replace the income he took elsewhere.

How to deal with a customer complaint

Stay calm

The first thing to do is to stay calm and try not to take the complaint personally.  The complainant is usually dissatisfied with the product or service and not you personally.  Try to distance yourself and your feelings and put things into perspective.  Taking things personally will only lead to an emotional response that is likely to make matters worse.

Acknowledge the complaint

You then need to acknowledge the customer complaint and apologise for how the complainant is feeling.  This is not accepting responsibility but is showing empathy for how the other person feels and letting them know you wish to help.

Get the complaint in writing

Wherever possible, ask for the complaint in writing.  Or if the person is complaining to you verbally, let them know you are going to write everything down so you can ensure you have all the facts and do not forget anything.  This can help as when someone starts to write, they can realise how unreasonable they may be or how they may have overreacted somewhat.  Also, if they are in front of you and angry, they will see that you cannot write as fast as they speak and so will have to slow down, which in return will give them more time to breathe and calm down.

Take time to review

You do not need to give a solution immediately if you do not want to.  You can let them know that you are going to review the complaint, look into what has happened and will get them back to them with a response in a specified timescale.

This both gives the complainant the satisfaction that you have listened and something is being done and also gives you the time to consider what has happened and what you will do to resolve the situation.

Decide upon a solution or response

Now you need to get on and look into the situation and decide what you are going to do.  This will depend entirely upon your business and what the complaint relates to.  It could be a refund, a product replacement or simply an apology and assurance it won’t happen again if relevant.

If however, you find the complaint to be unfounded, be careful with your response.  Be clear that you have investigated the matter, fully understand their frustration but then explain why you feel there is not a complaint to answer.

Respond to the complainant

Do make sure you feedback to the customer within the timescale given or be prepared for the complaint to be escalated upon.

Always stay calm, speak slowly if talking to the customer, and assure them you are taking the complaint seriously as you value their custom.

Even if you cannot come to an amicable solution, they will hopefully appreciate that you have taken the time and trouble to listen and try to do something for them.

Document every customer complaint

Now document everything.  Just in case this complaint does not get resolved and is taken further, or resurrects its ugly head in the future, make sure you have all conversations and facts documented with dates and time.

The exception to the rule

There is always the exception to the rule of course and you may have the misfortune to come across someone who complains just for the fun of it.  This person is just out to cause trouble and the best thing to do is to apologise for the way they are feeling and state that you are not a good fit for each other and therefore it will be best to not deal with each other again.  Do not let these people bully you or get you to cave in to unreasonable demands.

Mary Angelou

Just remember, the customer will not so much remember what you said, but more how you made them feel.  Do your best to leave them feeling you took the time to take them seriously and valued their custom.  You may not do business with them again, but it may a good case of damage limitation as if they know you genuinely cared, they are less likely to bad mouth you to future prospects.

Hopefully, by using this method, any customer complaint you have will be dealt with amicably and gain you a reputation for excellent customer care.

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