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How to deal with customer complaints.

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“My job would be alright without customers.”

Anyone working in a customer focused role has said or probably thought this at some point, and if not, you’re probably thinking it right now!

You could get so much more done without having to talk to them, and wouldn’t it be great to not have to front up and have those difficult conversations.

However, you don’t need Richard Branson to tell you the drawbacks of having no customers; no customers means no sales, no sales means no company and no company means no job for you.

So customers are a must and 99.9% of the time they are human too, so they, like us, have good days and bad days. Sometimes they can be quite difficult and unfortunately, they won’t always agree with everything your company does, at these times they may complain.

A customer complaint can be a little daunting. Below are 9 steps to follow to help both you and the customer get through this difficult process.


Step 1 – Put yourself in the customers shoes.

In 1960, Jane Goodall spent two years living in the wild to better understand and observe how chimpanzees reacted to the world. Among other things, Goodall observed a chimpanzee making a tool to remove food from a tree. It was the first time that an animal had been observed doing this. The time Goodall spent putting herself in the animal’s environment was invaluable.

Please, however, don’t take this out of context; if your customer Doris complains that the service you currently provide is a bit slow, it probably isn’t wise to ask if you can move in with her so you can understand her needs and improve the service for her accordingly.

It is recommended that you try and think like her, though.

It’s important to show empathy with the customer and one of the best ways of doing this is to try and put yourself in their shoes

We’re all customers in our day-to-day lives, so think:

If you had received the same service, would you be complaining?


Step 2 – Just listen.

There’s a reason we have two ears and only one mouth, it’s more important to listen than to speak.

Let the customer air their frustrations and get their complaint off their chest. Don’t interrupt.

Not too long ago, holiday provider Thomas Cook released a list of bizarre complaints they had received from customers. One of which was that ‘the beach was too sandy’.

It must have been tempting for the Thomas Cook representative to run away, lock themselves in a room and cry on behalf of humanity when they heard this, but by listening to the customer, they showed that they cared about their views (even if they didn’t agree with them).


Step 3 – Assess the situation.

One of the most daunting types of customer is one who’s extremely irate when complaining.

It’s important to diffuse this situation, try not to raise your voice to their level as it’s human nature to mimic each other’s behaviour, talk calmly and slowly and this should lead to them copying you.

If they are face-to-face with you, ask them if they want a drink or want to come with you to a quieter place. If they agree, this too can lead to you showing they are important to you and that you’re taking control of the situation.

If the customer is still irate, then it will be hard for you to deal with them under these circumstances, so be honest, ‘I can see this situation has left you frustrated, can I suggest we arrange an alternative time that we can talk again.


Step 4 – 'Calm down, calm down': Watch the language.

Has anyone actually ever calmed down, when they have been told to calm down?

The language we use (both spoken and body language) is so important when dealing with customer complaints.

If you are talking face-to-face it’s important to be open with your hand gestures and keep appropriate eye contact so they know they have your undivided attention.

Try not to use negative words such as ‘no’ or ‘can’t’, instead focus on what you ‘can’ do together and be careful not to use inappropriate slang. Don’t say something ‘is no problem’ when it obviously is, as the customer is complaining


Step 5 – Acknowledge the complaint. 

No business can give the customer exactly what they want all of the time.

Betty may have entered your high tech Apple store and then complained to your store manager that she couldn’t buy a bag of Granny Smiths as she had expected.

Although you can’t give Betty the apple she was expecting, it’s important to still acknowledge her complaint.

Use phrases like ‘I hear what you’re saying’ and ‘I understand’.˜ By doing this you aren’t agreeing with the customer’s complaint but you are showing that you have actively listened to it.

A foot note to this is the importance of acknowledging complaints quickly on social media. In this fast paced 24/7 world, many people expect a reply of acknowledgment within minutes if not within the hour


Step 6 – Repeat the complaint back.

The next stage is to be absolutely certain that you have heard what the customer is saying correctly before acting.

If the complaint has been made face-to-face, then a tip is to repeat back to the customer what they are saying. This will not only enable you to make sure you have understood the complaint correctly but it will also give you more time to prepare a response. This is a practise often undertaken by politicians when they are asked questions.

If you have not understood the customer’s complaint, this can lead to you not dealing with it accurately and lead to even more frustration from the customer, who may even complain again


Step 7 – Respond tot he complaint. 

You have heard the complaint, acknowledged it, clarified and you have understood it, now it’s time for action.

You’re now providing a service for this customer, so it’s important that a service gap doesn’t happen. This can happen when a customer’s expectations are not met leaving a gap between what they expected and what was delivered, leading to dissatisfaction for the customer.

To stop a service gap from happening it’s important to tell them at this stage what they can expect from you next including when they can expect a response by.

It may be that you can’t help them with their response directly, so it’s important to tell the customer this but also tell them you will personally be following up on their behalf and that they can contact you if needed


Step 8 – The end is just the beginning.

After the complaint has been handled/passed on, this shouldn’t be the end.

You may have pacified them but now you have an opportunity to make them an advocate of your company.

You may wish to contact them a week after their complaint and see how they’re getting on with using your company’s services. Make sure to thank them for raising the issue and let them know of a number to call if they have any further issues.

The aim is for the customer to think “this company listened to my complaint, they acted, they followed up, they really care, these guys aren’t so bad after all, I might even tell my friends to use them.


Step 9 – Be Thankful.

To put it another way, 20 people may not be happy with your latest product but only 1 will tell you so, therefore you could potentially risk losing 19 customers and not realize why.

A way to stop this is to log all complaints using a central shared system (this could start off as a simple shared Excel spreadsheet) and ask your employees to record all complaints on it, record what the complaint was and what was been done to rectify it.

A shared system for employees will not only allow the complaints champion to check that all complaints have been responded to and actioned but will also enable you to see trends in complaints and act accordingly so that there’s less risk of ‘silent complainers’ leaving your company.

By gathering data on complaints you may discover there were actually another 19 customers who thought that ‘the beach was too sandy’, therefore it might be worth suggesting a campaign for the marketing team to advertise holidays in Madeira.

‘Beautiful weather all year around and the majority of the beaches are pebbled!’

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