Customer Complaints Are An Opportunity

Charisma will open a lot of doors but character will keep you in there.

No matter how good your product or service is, you will probably get some customer complaints. That’s life.

It may not be fun. It may not be fair. But again that’s life. So you’d better have some strategy for dealing with those customer complaints. And you’d better have the character that will keep you in business with your customers.

I think character starts with attitude. I’ve found that excellent organizations and excellent customer service professionals actually WELCOME COMPLAINTS. They intuitively know that when their customers have problems, their customers will go somewhere to get their problems resolved. They want those complaining customers to come to them.

Of course, you may be thinking, “That’s the last thing I want, a bunch of customers with problems and complaints.” But did you know that the most loyal customers, the biggest spending customers are the ones who had a complaint and had it fixed promptly by an individual or an organization? They’re the customers who go around talking about the good service they received when times were tough.

At Charles Schwab, the investment company, they know that a well-handled complaint turns into extra sales for the company. So they aim to do more than simply satisfy the complaining customer. They aim to keep that customer and increase the amount of business they do with him or her.

To measure this, their complaint department does not measure success by the lack of complaints they receive. Instead they look at the amount of business a client gave them six months before the complaint and six months after.

They want their staff to realize that the $50 credit given to an upset customer is not the issue. It’s whether or not they kept that account. As President David Pottruck said, “If we simply get the customer off our backs and he or she leaves, we haven’t accomplished very much.”

So they welcome complaints at Charles Schwab. And the results speak for themselves. More than half of their complaining customers give them even more business after their complaint.

Excellent customer service people also exhibit their character by refraining from certain behaviors. They REFRAIN FROM REVENGE. Even though some customers may be extremely difficult and may not “deserve” the best treatment, excellent service providers stay professional. They don’t try to get back or get even. They adhere to Muhammad Ali’s philosophy that “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

Of course, sometimes it’s mighty tempting to want to get even. It’s like the time the ticket agent was being told off by a passenger at the airport. Even though the ticket agent didn’t personally do anything wrong, the customer still cussed, swore, and belittled the agent. The agent maintained his composure.

After the abusive passenger left, another passenger asked the agent how he did it. How could he remain so professional in the face of such unfair and extreme abuse?

The agent replied, “I have to remind myself that the customer is important. I have to listen. I can’t argue. I just have to be calm, patient, understanding, and nice.”

“Still,” the other passenger said, “I don’t see how you do it. What keeps you going?”

The ticket agent said, “Well there are little comforts in life. Little joys. You see that last passenger was going to Tokyo. His bags are going to Tallahassee.”

Of course, that’s amusing, but it’s not something excellent service providers would ever do. Excellent providers refrain from revenge.

They also ASSUME GOOD INTENTIONS. In other words, when they are confronted with a “difficult,” “manipulative,” or “deceitful” customer, excellent service providers assume good intentions on the part of the customer. They try to see things from the customer’s point of view instead of just reacting to his/her offensive, on-the-surface behavior.

Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, gives just such an example. He reminds us that we often do not or cannot know what is causing a person to behave in a way that we don’t like.

Covey tells about a Sunday morning subway ride in New York City. As a few people sat quietly reading newspapers, a father and his young children entered the subway car. The father sat down and seemed to drift off in thought as his children ran around the car, screaming and distracting other passengers. After a few minutes of restraint, and after it became obvious the father wasn’t paying any attention to his children’s behavior, Covey asked the man to control his children.

The father’s response is an important lesson to all of us in assuming good intentions. The father said, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

As Covey points out, his feelings instantly changed from irritation to compassion. And the same thing will probably happen to your feelings if you assume good intentions the next time you deal with a complaining customer.

If you deal with people, if you interact with internal or external customers, you will deal with complaints on occasion. How you deal with those complaints can make or break your business. Afterall, your customers will talk about your response to their complaints. And your reputation, your character is more a function of your customers’ comments than all the advertising you’ll ever do.

So please, welcome complaints, refrain from revenge, and assume good intentions. Not only will you make your customer’s day, you’ll also make your own. As physician and missionary Dr. Albert Schweitzer so keenly noted, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know. The only ones among you who will be happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

Action:  List five ways you consciously or unconsciously “get back at” or “get even with” difficult customers. Whether it’s making them wait on hold quite a bit longer or “forgetting” to offer an alternative solution to his/her problem, it would be easy to punish the more challenging customers. List five things you do along these lines, and then list five positive things you could do instead.