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. Forget blame

Think of 'How to solve the 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 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, and 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. Outline the solution, or the alternatives

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 situation, say "I will" and be positive

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 them 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.
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Mac Mackay

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