Handling complaints

Some ideas on how to approach dealing with complaints

Recently, I had the (unusual for me) opportunity to make two separate complaints.  As someone who has worked in Customer Service for much of my working life I was genuinely astonished at how poorly the complaints were managed.    The results of this are pretty stark and straightforward

  • I would never use the services again
  • I would never recommend the services to anyone
  • If asked, I would not have anything positive to say about the people or the service.

There are some pretty compelling reasons to figure out how to handle complaints properly - in general, people have a propensity to talk much more frequently about poor experiences than good ones.  If you resolve a complaint to the satisfaction of your customer at very worst the issue will not be discussed but in fact, if handled well, it can actually be a point of advocacy for your business, generating positive discussion about your business.

If you take the right attitude – that a difficult customer can become your best advocate -  there are three steps you can take to make that happen.

  1. Be prepared to be in the wrong – if you don’t use this as your starting point you will never have the empathy and understanding necessary to avoid having a pointless and destructive argument. Nothing is going to set the clients back up and alienate them further than being told they are wrong when they feel they are justified in their position.
  2. Listen to what you are being told – very often the complaint arises because of a gap in expectation and delivery.  If you listen carefully you will find out where that gap is and more importantly what the customers expectations are of the steps you can take to fix the issue.
  3. Resolving the issue and the cost of doing so is obviously relative to the scale and nature of the complaint.  Very frequently, allowing the person complaining to express themselves and their frustration goes along way to resolving the problem.  A token, gesture or discount to recognise and compensate is a further step in acknowledging what the customer feels.  In bigger issues, a sincere and visible commitment to ensuring the issue is resolved and doesn’t arise again is important in ensuring the relationship can continue productively.

But, you might say, what happens when the customer is actually wrong?  Again, this goes back to being prepared to be wrong and listening carefully.  If it emerges that in fact the person making the initial complaint is wrong, they will be much more amenable to being shown that they are wrong, if they feel they were taken seriously in the first place and that you listened without pre-judging them.

Finally, and it does have to be said, there is often one person who is so difficult you just have to accept they may never be happy.  Do your best and remember there is things going on in their life that you will never know about.  Try using compassion and understanding and accept the outcome as being the best you were able to do in the circumstances. 

Dealing with complaints can be stressful - in my not inconsiderable experience of dealing with customers with both genuine and perceived issues, if you maintain your good humour and don’t take it personally through any exchange you will manage your emotions during the situation better and you will be better prepared for the next time.