Techniques for dealing with customer complaints


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Mac MacKay of Duncan Alexander & Wilmshurst shares a few useful techniques to help you handle complaints from customers

1. Solve the customer's complaint

Think of 'How to solve the customer's problem' rather than 'Who is to blame?'. Even if you don't say so to the customer, sometimes it is easy to think: "That's not my job", "Nobody told me..." or "I don't see why I should sort out somebody else's mess...". And sometimes it's easy to blame yourself when a situation goes wrong.

Blaming either yourself or other people is a waste of time. This is not to say that you can't recognise a mistake and learn from it. However, using your energy trying to find out who is to blame just makes you feel angry, resentful or sorry for yourself. It achieves nothing worthwhile. In a job which involves dealing with customer complaints, you are almost always sorting out situations which are not directly your fault. The answer is to solve the problem and take it professionally and see it as just another part of your job.

2. Listen to the customer

Ask the customer questions and listen carefully to find out what they want you to do - if anything. Remember that listening to the complaint is sometimes as important as doing something about it. Repeat what the customer has said to check you have understood the problem and you know what they want you to do.

Often a customer will approach you with a complaint but with no suggestions for the solution. He or she might tell you exactly what is wrong. You will be told the whole story and why it caused such problems, but often you are left to suggest the solution yourself.

3. Give the customer solutions

Handling an angry person with a complaint is quite simple when you can solve the problem. If you can, say so immediately.

However, there may be occasions when you can't do exactly what they would like you to do. In such a situation, try to outline the alternatives or say what you can do.

Can you think of any words or phrases you could use to suggest an alternative, instead of simply saying 'No, we can't do that'?

4. Take charge of the customer complaint

To give the customer more confidence in you, use: "I will..." instead of: "I could..."; "I might..."; or "I don't..."; all of which sound weak and negative. For instance, instead of: "I don't think we can do that. I could try to find out for you.", say: "I will go and find out for you."

Using will sounds as if you are really doing something and therefore reassures the customer. "I could try..." sounds vague and leaves the customer wondering if anything can or will be done.

5. Tell customers what they CAN DO, not what they CAN'T

This is another technique where your response can be positive and active rather than negative and ineffective. Instead of saying 'No', say 'You can...'.

This doesn't always work, as there isn't always an alternative. However, there are many situations where you can use this technique. It's much better from the customer's point of view to know what they can do rather than what they can't do.

You can use this technique:

  • When you can't give the customer exactly what they're asking for, but you have an alternative.
  • When you'd like to help but you're not able to do more than convey your goodwill.
  • When your customer doesn't know exactly what he or she wants. Giving customers an option often helps them make their minds up.

6. Learn to welcome complaints

Organisations need to welcome complaints as a second chance to keep a customer. Research has shown that:

  • Most dissatisfied customers do not complain. The average business does not hear from 96% of its unhappy customers.
  • For every complaint received, there will be another 26 customers with problems - at least six of these will be serious.
  • Most customers can't be bothered to complain and just take their custom elsewhere.
  • Non-complainers are the least likely group to buy from the organisation again. A complainer who gets a response is more likely to come back. Between 65% and 90% of non-complainers will never buy from you again and you will never know why.

Customers whose complaints are dealt with efficiently and politely feel even more positive about the company than they did before the issue arose. Even a complaint made but not satisfactorily dealt with makes the customer 10% more likely to come back - just being able to complain helps.

Better to have complaints than silent dissatisfaction! You need to keep in close touch with your customers' feelings to ensure that they remain customers. So, learning how to receive, respond to and learn from complaints is vital as it provides an excellent opportunity to give your customer a little more than they expect when you do put it right.

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Mac Mackay

‘Seeing the way...’ describes DAW’s business advice. Whether that's finding more about your customers - their needs, wants, and desires - or finding more about your organisation and how well it delivers its promise, you'll get a bespoke service giving you clear answers to searching questions.

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