One of the most frustrating aspects of owning a business is that it’s impossible to please all of your customers all the time. As a result, you will have to experience handling complaints from time to time. If you’re a business owner, you may not have to handle them directly, instead being able to leave them in the hands of your customer service department, However, it is your responsibility to make sure your staff are well equipped not only to handle complaints, but also to deal with them in such a way that they’re transformed from a negative into a positive.
In addition, it’s important to remember that as a business owner, you may get called upon by your customers to handle their complaint personally, as the buck lies with you. But have no fear, we’re here to give you some tips on how to face the challenge of customer complaints, leaving you feeling confident and able to pass your wisdom on to your employees. We recommend creating some guidelines for everybody in your organisation to use, so that a consistent response is delivered and your reputation can be more easily maintained.
How to Handle Customer Complaints…
Approach the Challenge with the Right Mindset
Don’t view a customer complaint as a confrontation, instead, see it as an opportunity to gain insight into where the business might be flawed and, therefore, an opportunity to improve. No business is perfect and even if you feel that the customer might be overreacting, you should be striving to create a customer experience that leaves no room whatsoever for disappointment. Remember, increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by a minimum of 25%.
The natural next step is to make sure you listen. It’s easy to fall into the trap of attempting to end the conversation as soon as possible by trying to placate them quickly. However, really paying attention to what they say is a far more effective approach. Listening carefully gives the customer the impression that you truly care about what they have been through, and want to help. Once they are safe in the knowledge that they are speaking to someone who would like to find a real solution for them, their attitude is likely to adjust.
Empathise with the Customer
Put yourself in the shoes of the customer. How would you feel if you had had the same experience? Perhaps there has been a time when you have spent money on a product but been disappointed by it. What would you have liked to see from the business you bought it from? Most of us would ask for understanding and recognition of the problem, and a solution to be found.
To show that you are on the same page as them, use phrases such as ‘I completely understand and I’m sorry that you have had this experience’, or ‘I too would feel how you feel, and agree that it is unacceptable’. Even if you think you would perhaps have responded differently to a similar situation yourself, remember that everything is relative and there is no right or wrong when it comes to how people feel.
The Customer is Always Right
This brings me to my next point; the well known phrase ‘the customer is always right’ and what this really means. This needs to be understood in a non-literal sense; it refers to the fact that no matter what the particular situation is, the customer needs their disappointment to be validated. Avoid battling with them over the specifics and simply focus on the fact that your product has not met their expectations, when it should have.
Everybody communicates their feelings differently. Some customers might take an aggressive stance initially when lodging a complaint, while some might do so apologetically. Regardless of how appropriate their response might feel to you, always remember to apologise yourself. An apology is the most efficient way to ensure the customer knows that their feelings have been recognised. In turn, this will help to establish a common ground and a less confrontational conversation going forwards.
Let Them Speak
Another important thing to remember when handling a customer complaint, is to give them the space to voice their concerns. The more you try to quieten them, the more frustrated they will feel. It’s far more effective to let them get things off their chest. The will feel heard and will be better able to follow up with a calm conversation regarding potential solutions. Cutting them off will only escalate the problem.
No matter what attitude a customer is approaching the problem with, it is paramount that you maintain a level head and calm demeanour. Not doing so is the fastest way to turn a potential opportunity for growth into a heated and unhelpful argument. Such an experience would not be enjoyable for either party and would make the prospect of future customer complaints even more daunting for you. Take control of the situation and set the precedent for a respectful exchange.
Take it Personally
Whether you are the owner or an employee of a company, hopefully you care about its success. Therefore, if a customer voices concern or disappointment with their experience, it should spur you into action to rectify the issue and, therefore, protect its reputation. This frame of mind should naturally lead to an understanding and helpful approach to handling their complaint.
Gather as much information from the customer as you can regarding their disappointing experience. Whether this is the name of a customer service representative they found to be confrontational, or the exact product number of the item in question. They will be surprised and impressed by your interest and investment in the problem, and you will be better able to provide an effective solution.
Showing that you are taking the complaint seriously and are genuinely surprised and disappointed by what has happened, is the best way to minimise damage to the reputation of the business. A genuine mistake is much more easily forgiven than blatant disregard. When asking consumers what impacts their level of trust with a company, offering excellent customer service ranked number one. Lastly, thank them for the information as this gives the impression that you are viewing the situation as an opportunity for improvement.
Find a Solution
Crucially, you need to offer a solution to the problem rather than trying to make it go away. There are many different courses of action you can take. Usually, if a product has not delivered on what it claims to do, the customer will be entitled to a full refund. If it is wasn’t what they expected, a credit note might be more appropriate. If they’ve had a negative experience of employees at the company, perhaps a free of charge service would help, but always make sure it changes their opinion by giving them a much improved experience.
However, despite the norms that exist when it comes to suitable solutions, over-delivering might be the best course of action when it comes to protecting the reputation of your company. Doing so would prove that the customer is valuable to you and any negative experience they have had is something that is also a problem for you.
Finally, as well as finding a suitable solution, make sure you deliver on it. Ensure that at the end of every call the first thing you do is set the wheels in motion, whether that’s ordering a voucher to be sent out in the post, or creating an appointment in the diary. Don’t un-do all of your hard work by falling at the last hurdle.
This leads me nicely to my final point. If you want to go the extra mile, get back in touch with them a little while afterwards to make sure they are happy with the resolution. This will further solidify an excellent effort towards customer care and, therefore, hopefully undo any damage caused by the initial problem. Investing in new customers is between 5 and 25 times more expensive than retaining existing ones, so it’s well worth taking the time to put these tips into action.
So, now you are equipped with a wealth of knowledge on how to handle customer complaints effectively. Soon, your team will be the best fire fighters around and your reputation will be boosted rather than bludgeoned.