Handling Customer Complaints

Customer service IS marketing and too many businesses forget that. Every business needs a plan for successfully handling customer complaints. Every business makes mistakes. Sometimes things go wrong and customers are unhappy. Then, they complain. Right?

Actually, only a small fraction of customers (about 1 in 10) will actually bother to complain. Almost all of them will tell other people (bad publicity) but many will simply take their business elsewhere. So, do your best to avoid creating complaint situations, but when someone complains, remember that how you react is vitally important to your business. You can ignore it, try to justify it, quote policy, blame the customer, or do any number of things that are essentially bad for your business.

But, if you can look at complaints as an opportunity to turn an unhappy customer back into a happy customer, you will positively impact your business immediately and for the long-term.

We have all had experiences where a company made a mistake and then compounded it by how poorly they reacted when we complained. In fact, it seems epidemic these days. We tend to be more surprised when a company fixes our problem than when they don’t.

There are customers that you cannot make happy no matter what you do. There are people who are happier being miserable. But for the most part, people just want what they paid for. They want their package delivered before the party. They want their steak cooked the way they like it. They want the gizmo to work. But, things happen. Shipments get delayed or orders get entered incorrectly. The steak gets overcooked. Gizmos break.

When the system fails for whatever reason and someone complains, how can resolve the complaint so that the customer is happy and willing to do business with you again? If you know in advance how you (and your employees) are going to handle customer complaints, you will be better prepared to handle the complaint in a way that makes your customer happy.

These tips work. I have used them and trained others to use them for several years.

Six Simple Steps for Handling Customer Complaints

1—Listen. Actually listen to what they are saying. Make sure you understand the problem. It might help to take notes in some situations if the problem is complicated. It always helps to let the customer finish talking before you speak. They want to be heard.

2—Acknowledge what they are saying. Rephrase and repeat the complaint back to them. “I understand your gizmo was broken when you opened the box.” If you skip this step, you might end up fixing a problem that didn't need fixing or fixing the wrong problem. Maybe the gizmo was broken but the real problem was that you sent the wrong gizmo.

3—Apologize. Say "I'm very sorry." And mean it. Put yourself in his or her shoes. It is a very big deal to them if they are taking time to complain. Even if the problem is not your fault, apologize anyway. You are saying "I'm sorry you had a bad experience and that the service/product you received is not up to our usual standards." When you apologize, if it's not already clear what you should do, ask "How can we make this right for you?"

4—Act. Fix the problem to their satisfaction. They may want a new gizmo. They may want a refund. Offer choices if you can. “I can send you a new gizmo tomorrow or I can credit your account right now.”

5—Offer to do more. Giving someone what they paid for is the bare minimum. If you really want to win customers for life, try to give more when you can. Try a discount on a future purchase, or a free gift, or free dessert.

6—Follow up. Make sure the second gizmo is not broken, too. A letter of apology is always a good idea, but a phone call to make sure they are now happy, or even an email will work, too.

You can use these steps (or similar ones) to create a system for handling customer complaints for your company. Use scenarios familiar to your business as examples. Make sure everyone who deals with your customers is able to use these steps to turn complainers into fans.

Smart Marketing Works provides Customer Service Training customized for your company and your customers.

Email deborah@smart-marketing-works.com for info on training programs to help you and your associates create and deliver excellent experiences for your customers.