Managing Customer Complaints

“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it”

Peter Drucker

As business owners, managers or supervisors some of the worst moments in your working experience can involve managing customer complaints (note the word ‘manage’ rather than ‘handle’?)

The experience is often stressful, uncomfortable and unpleasant isn’t it?

Customer complaints have serious ramifications for your business and if not managed well can seriously damage the business. Customer complaints do however provide an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive and enable you to retain the business.

Remember it is estimated that less than 10% of customers complain about customer service, they just go elsewhere and we rarely know why. Don’t dread customer complaints, but instead view them as an opportunity to create a long term customer. A complaint gives your business a second chance!

There are 6 steps in managing a customer complaint:

  1. Let the customer vent their anger

Remain calm, try and keep personalities out of the situation and allow the customer to vent their anger and listen attentively.

  1. Make ‘I’ statements and apologise

Build rapport and build empathy by using ‘I’ statements: “I can understand………..I would be angry” show that you are taking sides WITH the customer. The anger is addressed at the problem and not you.

  1. ‘So what you are saying is…’

Try and understand what the problem is by using effective listening techniques – paraphrase what the customer is saying and ask clarifying questions so that you have a clear understanding of the issue.

  1. ‘This is what we can do….’

Take responsibility for solving their problem and let them know what you can do. It is important to use positive language and offer solutions, options or a course of action. Make sure you gain agreement from them.

  1. End positively

Thank the customer and explain what you intend to do, when and how.

  1. Just ‘do it’

Just like the Nike advertisement ‘just do it’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCJ7G-vY4vA) means providing updates, following up within the agreed time frame and communicating with them (personally is best) when that action has been completed.

This is an example from a few years again when I was managing a vehicle transport company. A transport manifest arrived by fax (yes many years ago) at 4.00 pm and upon reading it I learnt that there was a car arriving within the next 2 hours that was due in Brisbane that night. We were in Wagga Wagga in country New South Wales Australia 1,200 kms (14 hours away) from Brisbane. The car then had to be loaded onto a truck north for Cairns (a further 1,700 km away or 20 hours away).The car was needed by the customer in Cairns in 2 days time for him to pick it up from the airport and drive to his tropical beach holiday destination a further hour’s drive north.

This was Mission Impossible!

It was a physical impossibility to have a car in Cairns nearly 3,000 km away in 2 days even if it was driven there.

Flying a car was not an option!

Should I be like Corporal Jones in the BBC TV series “Dad’s Army” and start panicking?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZR6wok7g7do

What happened?

I called the customer (with extreme dread) and explained the situation 3 hours before he was due to board a direct flight from Melbourne to Cairns.

His reaction (Step 1) was dismay although not overt anger – how was he going to get to his holiday house?

I apologised (Step 2) and asked him again (Step 3) what his requirements for transport for his holiday were. He needed to have a car to travel to and around his holiday destination.

I then gave him several options, one being that we would provide a hire car at no cost for his holiday or until his car eventually arrived (Step 4).

He agreed, I thanked him for his understanding (Step 5) and said I would arrange this and get back to him.

A hire car was organised, using my personal credit card to be available at the local Cairns airport lounge for his arrival (Step 6). I then phoned him back just before he boarded the plane. He was very happy with the outcome. He continued to be a client for many years.

Even the most difficult situations can be solved using common sense and the 6 Step approach to managing customer complaints……………

Compare this approach that described in one of my earlier blogs (https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2014/03/20/customer-service/).

It is quite a contrast isn’t it?

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