The Top Ten Tips For Handling Customer Complaints

A customer’s complaint may be the best gift you’ll ever receive.

Most of your customers are probably satisfied with your service… at least partially. But I’ll bet they seldom… if ever… call to say, “Everything’s okay. No problems. There’s no need to call us right now. We’re HAPPY with your service just the way it is.

On the other hand, you may get a few calls from UNHAPPY customers. And in most cases, they come from the unhappy minority. Remember that. Keep that in perspective. And don’t become jaded, thinking that customers… in general… like to complain.

No, they don’t. Oh sure, you may have a few chronic complainers who feel everything is over priced and that they never get good service. But MOST customers don’t like to complain. In fact, they go out of their way to avoid it. So you’d better take your customers seriously when they do have a problem.

Here’s a quick overview of how you can… and should… handle customer complaints.

=> 1. Thank the customer.

The most natural thing to do… when you hear about a customer’s problem… is to start focusing on the solution to his problem. It works better, however, if you start by conveying your appreciation. Tell the customer you’re glad he’s telling you about his problem.

After all, his complaint is a GIFT. He’s giving you valuable information, and he’s giving you a free consulting service… telling you how you can improve your business. He’s even giving you a chance to correct his problem so he can keep on doing business with you.

=> 2. Explain your appreciation.

If you simply say “Thanks” your customer might wonder why you gave such a strange response to his complaint. So explain how his or her complaint will help you improve your service. Say something like, “I’m happy to hear about this because it tells us we need to streamline our shipping procedures.”

=> 3. Listen to the customer’s story and complaint.

BEFORE you resolve the customer’s problem, your customer wants to tell her story. And she wants to tell it to a person who seems to care. So ask questions. Listen. Paraphrase what you hear.

Then go a little deeper. Ask some questions to determine the scope and nature of the problem. And once again, repeat the information to make sure you understand exactly what the customer perceives as the problem.

You may be tempted to skip this step… to skip the customer’s long, boring, or emotional story. You may want to save time and jump to the solution. Don’t do it. The customer needs to tell her story, and if you don’t listen, she’ll find dozens of other people who will. And you can’t afford that kind of negative publicity.

=> 4. Refrain from argument.

Your customer may be angry and say things that are unfair or untrue. But when he’s upset, he wants you to listen… not tell him why he’s wrong. If you let the customer tell his story and get his emotions out on the table, there’s a better chance he’ll calm down and listen to reason.

=> 5. Show you’re sorry.

Let the customer know you’re sorry there is a problem… but you are glad to hear about it. As the editors of “The Customer Services Rep’s Emergency Survival Guide” say, “You are not admitting error, but simply letting the customer know you regret the situation, no matter what the reason is or where the fault lies.”

=> 6. Exhibit some empathy.

Once you’ve calmed the customer down with your thanks, your listening, and your apology, let the customer know you understand how he or she must feel. Say something like, “That must have been so disappointing for you. I can see how that defective part made it impossible for you to finish your work.”

=> 7. Find out what the customer wants.

Ask your customer what will meet his needs, fix the problem, or get him back to being satisfied with your service or product. In the book, “A Complaint Is A Gift,” Barlow and Moller say, “At times, customers only want to let you know something happened and how they were inconvenienced. They don’t necessarily want anything extra or special from you.”

And that’s great. If that’s all the customer wants, and if you’ve done the six steps I just outlined, you’ve got a happy customer once again.

But if your customer wants something more, find out what it is. Don’t guess. Don’t jump to conclusions. ASK your customer what he needs, and then paraphrase for clarification.

=> 8. Explain what you can do.

Once you understand what your customer wants, if you’re empowered to do it, do it. Do it immediately. If you have to involve someone with more authority, get that person involved.

If it’s not that simple, if your hands are tied in some way, if you can’t do exactly what the customer is asking, tell him you’re going to do whatever you can to make things right. After all, there’s ALWAYS something you can do.

And your customer knows that. So don’t say, “There’s nothing we can do.” Refrain from the “no” word. And don’t get into a big explanation as to why you can’t do something. It will only add fuel to the customer’s anger.

=> 9. Take action.

Once a resolution has been decided upon, set up a course of action that is agreeable to your customer. Be specific as to who will do what by when.

=> 10. Check back with the customer.

Most customer service people are simply glad when they’ve gotten through another customer complaint. But if you really want to stand out in your customer’s mind, check back with him to make sure he was satisfied with how his problem was handled. And thank your customer for giving you the chance to make things right.

Some people see customer service as just plain common sense. Maybe so. But when it comes to customer complaints, the most “common,” the most “natural” thing to do is to ignore it or argue about it. That doesn’t work. Follow these 10 steps instead.

Action:  Look at the 10 steps for handling customer complains. Pick out the two steps you most need to improve. Write those 2 steps on a 4″x6″ card and put the card next to your telephone. The next time a customer calls to complain, look at the card to remind yourself to practice those two steps.