When a customer calls you to complain about your company, they have given you a gift.
I know that seems counter-intuitive, but it is true for two reasons.
- This is great news because they could have chosen to simply fire your company as a vendor. That is what the majority of unhappy people do. They don’t fuss and fume, they simply leave.
- A problem that is handled well can actually be an opportunity to create a stronger relationship with your customer. None of your clients actually believe your company is perfect, infallible and incapable of making a mistake. What they really want to know is if you can handle mistakes appropriately and put systems in place so you don’t repeat them.
What does it take to handle customer complaints well? Consider adding the following to your process:
- Written Policies: A written policy for handling customer complaints that everyone in the company has been trained on, not just customer service reps or your receptionist.
- Clear Guidelines: Clear guidelines about when customer complaints need to be brought to the attention of a manager, an owner, the company attorney, etc. Be aware that if managers are allowed to fly-off-the-handle at employees who admit to mistakes, they simply won’t tell you about things you really need to know about. Employees should be held responsible, but remember that they are watching your manager’s reactions to bad news and deciding how much to tell them in the future.
- Self-Control: Resist the urge to react to the complaint. Try to avoid getting defensive, denying responsibility, throwing someone else under the bus, or even apologizing.
- Initiative: The initiative to lead with the words “I want to help you. May I please ask you some questions to make sure I understand your situation?” Your most important job is to start gathering facts. Don’t deny or apologize. You don’t know all the facts yet.
- Patience: The patience to let someone who has called to complain tell their whole story. You are allowing them to release the steam from their pressure cooker. If you cut them off, try to hurry them up, etc. you are only going to start increasing the pressure again.
- Cooling-Off Period: Once you have gathered the details from someone about their complaint, you need to say something like “I am going to start looking into this for you. May I follow-up with you this afternoon (tomorrow morning, etc.)? What would be the most convenient time for me to call you?” This gives you time to do your homework, talk with others involved, decide on an appropriate response and then talk with your complainer after they have had an opportunity to cool off.
- Planned Response: Your company many not have actually made a mistake, but you need accurate information before you can discuss that with your client. On the other hand, if your company has blundered, you need time to determine what you are going to offer your client to correct the situation and ensure it doesn’t happen again. You will not regain your customer’s confidence if you don’t explicitly address this.
The good news is that when a customer complaint is handled professionally and appropriately you can forge a new level of trust with your client and a more lasting relationship.
Does your company have a plan and a process for handling customer complaints well or do they represent a ticking time bomb?
This blog was written by Laurie Leonard, the President of SUITE 1000, a U.S. based national telephone answering service, inbound call center and outsourced call center service. Her company has specialized in handling legal intake, sales leads, email lead response, appointment scheduling, customer service and help desk calls for over 20 years.