Turn Customer Complaints into
By Paul Rutter
you work in a profession where you have absolutely no human contact
whatsoever, you’re bound to hear a complaint from someone every now
and then. Sometimes it’s a customer complaining about a product not
working as promised; other times it’s a complaint about your
company’s customer service. Whatever the complaint is, if you have
any responsibility for resolving the situation, you need some
clear-cut strategies for making complaints a win-win situation for
Unfortunately, many people are fearful of complaints. They view the
complaining person as “a whiner,” as someone “annoying” that they
have to deal with. Even worse, if they suspect a customer is going
to complain, they may go so far as to avoid that person. But such an
approach only makes the situation worse. Realize that complaints are
not necessarily bad. A complaint is actually an opportunity for
improvement—a way for you to see what isn’t working in your company
or department so you can take action to fix it.
A typical business hears from only 4% of its
dissatisfied customers; the other 96% just go quietly away, and
91% of them will never go back;
A typical dissatisfied customer tells more than
eight people about his or her problem;
Seven out of ten complaining customers will do
business with you again if you resolve the complaint favorably.
before you roll your eyes at the next complaint you hear, use the
following guidelines to make resolving the complaint a quick and
Respond quickly: When you receive a complaint, response time is
critical. If the complaining party is standing in front of you, you
need to do what you can to resolve the situation right then.
However, not all complaints come in through a face-to-face
interaction. Complaints may also come in via e-mail, through a
company survey form, or via voicemail. Additionally, you may not be
able to resolve the complaint the moment you receive it in a
face-to-face interaction. Therefore, set standards for your
complaint response time. Depending on your company or industry, you
may be able to commit to resolving complaints within thirty minutes.
For other companies, a one week timeframe may be more realistic.
Whatever your timeframe is, be sure to let the customer know when to
expect a resolution. Remember, ignoring a problem does not make it
go away, and people get more frustrated and irate when they believe
you are ignoring them.
good listener: One of the most important aspects of handling any
complaint is to be a good listener. When people are complaining,
they want to be heard. They want to express themselves and get
something off their chest. And most of the time, that’s all
they want—to let you know that something displeased them. So even
though you may want to “jump in” and interrupt them with facts or
your side of the story, don’t. Keep quiet and just let the person
talk uninterrupted. When they’re done talking, you’ll notice that
they no longer seem upset. That’s because you’ve given them a chance
to vent and to feel heard. Now they’ll be more likely to listen to
you as you explain the situation and what you can or can’t do to
resolve it. When it comes to complaints, a little silence on your
part goes a long way.
Empower your staff with solutions: One reason people hate
hearing complaints is that they feel there’s nothing they can do to
resolve a situation instantly. In many companies, an employee’s only
authority is to say, “I’ll let my manager know about this.” Realize
that such an approach only makes the complaining party more upset,
and it demoralizes the person receiving the complaint. Therefore,
empower your employees to make decisions right on the spot. Let them
know what they can and can’t do for a complaining customer.
example, your front line workers may have the authority to offer
people a ten percent discount off their next purchase. The next
level of employee may have the authority to offer a bigger discount
or some kind of coupon or voucher for future use. And the highest
level of employee may have the authority to offer something totally
free to ease the complaining party.
than always having to summon the manager, let your employees resolve
the majority of complaints instantly, thereby giving the customer an
immediate solution to the problem and giving your staff a boost of
confidence that they can indeed handle challenges.
honest and straightforward: We’ve all heard the phrase: “The
customer is always right.” Well, in some situations, the customer
isn’t right. Sometimes customers are mistaken; other times they
have misinterpreted events. Depending on the situation, the customer
may have an idea of how the product or service should work,
which isn’t necessarily correct. In these instances, the key is to
make the customer think they’re right as you subtly guide them to an
example, if you work in the hospitality industry and someone
complains that they couldn’t enjoy some aspect of their stay because
on their third night there they heard loud noises from the room next
door, and now they want their entire stay to be free, be diplomatic
and negotiate with the person. You could say something like, “I
understand you didn’t get a good night’s sleep that evening. You
were able to sleep very well the other four nights though. And you
seemed to enjoy the free continental breakfast we provided, as well
as the onsite amenities, such as the pool and fitness center. How
about you enjoy a nice lunch on us at the onsite restaurant before
you leave? That way you don’t have to stop anywhere on your way to
this approach you’re subtly reminding the person how great so many
other aspects of your service were and are offering a suitable
solution to make up for the small inconvenience.
more than expected: If you really want to “wow” someone and turn
a complaint into an opportunity, follow up with the complaining
person after the complaint has been resolved. Call the person to
make sure everything is okay and to see if there’s anything else you
can do for him or her. Since most people don’t expect this extra
step, it’s a great way to stand out and let the person know you have
his or her best interest in mind.
Embrace Complaints Today: If you look at complaints objectively
and have a process for dealing with them, you’ll see that they
really are opportunities to grow. So rather than dread complaints,
embrace them. When you do, you’ll see a marked improvement in repeat
business and word of mouth referrals as you continually strive to
meet and exceed your customers’ expectations.
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