7 Steps for dealing with customer complaints effectively
Don’t you hate it when customers complain?
Actually, when customers complain, it can be a good thing. Better they complain to you than to everyone else, at least you have an opportunity to fix the problem. You can’t fix a problem that you don’t know about so treat customer complaints for what they are, an opportunity to improve your business.
Why do customers complain?
A complaint from a customer happens when their expectations weren’t met or were only partially met. When a customer’s needs are not met, negative consequences remain. The product or service may have been fine but aspects of the sale may not have lived up to their expectations (warranties, delivery, follow up service).
Complaints come down to an unmet expectation. Here are some examples.
|The product hasn’t arrived yet||The expectation is that the product would be delivered when you said it would therefore the customer is unhappy that you didn’t keep your word.|
|You didn’t return my call||The expectation was when the customer left a message, that you would return their call. By not returning their call they feel like you don’t care about their business.|
|You are the third person I have spoken to||The expectation was that customer would be put through to someone who could help them and that their inquiry would be handled quickly and efficiently.|
|The product broke after using it twice||The expectation was that the product would do what you said it would without breaking down.|
|I found out I have been overcharged||The expectation was that the customer expected you to provide value for money.|
|You didn’t have what I wanted in stock||The expectation is that when you advertise a product, it will be in stock.|
A customer who complains is looking for reassurance and asking for the confidence and opportunity to buy from you again. It’s the way you handle the complaint that determines whether or not the customer comes back.
Far from being negative about a complaint, think of it as an opportunity to learn. The complaint could lead to a system being improved or a faulty product range being identified. Think of complaints as potential benefits.
A customer has a right to complain if they feel they didn’t get what they paid for.
How to handle a complaint
If a customer makes a complaint – never blame someone else in your organization even if it was their fault. A customer doesn’t care whose fault it is; they just want it fixed. Even if you are not responsible, express regret for their bad experience. Look to show the customer that you understand their feelings of frustration, anger, annoyance, inconvenience and that you are there to help.
Don’t blame the customer, become defensive or blame anyone else in your organization and last of all do not argue with the customer. Handled correctly, chances are you will continue to keep them as a customer in spite of the complaint.
Step 1. Listen
Resolving a customer complaint requires you to listen and understand what the customer is telling you. Listening and hearing are not the same thing. You must really listen to understand.
- Listen to the entire complaint without interruption
- Stop any mental chatter going on in your mind
- Accept any negative feedback and feelings
- Resist the urge to jump to conclusions and defend yourself
- Resist the urge to prepare a response without fully hearing them out
- Limit any distractions
- If you are face-to-face with the customer, look at them in the eye
- Express regret and a willingness to help
- Apologize if you or someone else in the business are in the wrong
- If you are not in the wrong – explain why (example you might have a policy that does not allow returns after 30 days)
- Don’t automatically accept blame unless it is obvious
- Promise to help them in any way possible
Step 3. Question and clarify
- Clarify the complaint
- Find out all the facts
- Separate emotions from the facts
- Restate your understanding of the facts
- Confirm with the customer your understanding is correct
- Use open ended questions to find out what the customers’ expectations are
Step 4. Discuss solutions
- Ask them how they would like the problem fixed
- Offer possible solutions
- Offer to look into their complaint
- Offer to get back to them within a fixed time frame
Step 5. Agree on the action
- Agree what you will do to help them (exchange the product, give their money back, follow up and get back to them)
- Agree exactly when you will get back to them
Step 6. Thank them
- Thank them for bringing the complaint to your attention
Step 7. Follow up
- Follow up on what you said you would do and when
- Check back with the customer if they are satisfied
- Take steps to prevent any further occurrences if appropriate
How to deal with an irate or angry customer
When a customer does get irate or angry, try to understand what got them to this point. For some people, it takes courage to lodge a complaint. It could be that their dissatisfaction has built up inside them to the point where they unload on the first person they meet. If that happens, remember it is not “you” personally that they are necessarily irate, angry or upset with – they are just frustrated.
Seek to understand
Try to understand the message behind what the customer is saying and not the way they are saying it. Look to sort out the emotions from the facts. Then reiterate the facts back to the customer to check for understanding. Do not say “calm down” – this can exacerbate the situation as the customer is clearly not thinking rationally.
Respond as follows speaking calmly and normally.
“I can understand why that would make you feel angry. Let me see if I have the facts right (repeat the facts back to them to check understanding) is that correct?”
By taking this approach, you are only feeding back the facts as the customer has relayed to you. By speaking calmly and normally, you are more likely to diffuse the situation and they will calm down accordingly.
Remove the customer from having an audience
In some cases, irate or angry customers like to have an audience, it gives them more power. If possible, if they are in a public area of your business, invite them into your office to discuss the situation. This serves two purposes, firstly when it’s on your turf, it gives you back the power and secondly, the customer is more likely to calm down as they now believe you are taking their complaint seriously.
Turn a no into a yes
The customer is not always right and they can’t always get what they want or demand for various reasons. Most customers are willing to accept what you can’t do particularly if they understand the reasons behind why you can’t do something and are offered an alternative.
Rather than say “no I can’t do that” what you can say is “I can’t do that however what I can do is…” The customer may not get what they originally wanted but they do get to go away with something.
How to deal with verbal abuse
You have rights – the right to be treated with respect and the right not to feel guilty for another person’s actions. No business owner, manager or employee has to accept or listen to verbal abuse by a customer. You can’t control other people’s behavior but what you can do is try to control your response.
If a customer is verbally abusive, wait until the person takes a breath and respond as follows.
“I would like to help you but if you continue to (shout, yell, use abusive language) I will terminate this (call or meeting) immediately.”
If the behavior continues, repeat yourself then say “I have asked you three times to stop. I am now terminating this (call or meeting).” Then either hang up or leave.
- You are wrong ….
- You are being unreasonable …
- You should have ….
Instead use statements like “I am sorry I didn’t make myself clear, I need you to stop (shouting, yelling, using abusive language) then I am happy to help you.
How to deal with physical abuse
Under no circumstances should you tolerate physical abuse. Do not attempt to retaliate unless you are in danger and need to defend yourself. If this is the case restrict your actions to defending yourself only. Remove yourself from danger as soon as possible and call the authorities. If you are injured in any way, seek medical help immediately.
On a final note
When you treat a customer complaint as an opportunity to learn, you increase your customer retention rates.
In a Nutshell
Customers complain when their expectations are not met. To handle a complaint:
- Apologize and empathize
- Question and clarify
- Discuss solutions
- Agree on an action
- Thank them
- Follow up
Handling an irate or angry customer:
- Seek to understand
- Remove the customer from an audience
- Turn a no into a yes
- Don’t accept verbal abuse
- Remove yourself if there is physical abuse