It doesn’t matter how much you try to please your customers and deliver a good service or product, you will inevitably receive a customer complaint at some point. The reasons for a customer complaining are many. It’s possible that your product or service has fallen short of their expectations, this is perhaps the usual cause of a complaint.
I think it’s fair that we can define two clear types of complaining customers here.
- The customer who genuinely believes that you, your service or your products have failed in some way.
- The customer who seemingly is a professional at complaining and no doubt has had many confrontations with other businesses.
How Do You Distinguish Between These Two Customers?
This is usually quite easy! The minute the word compensation is mentioned or a threat of posting a poor review, contacting the newspapers etc is given then you can confidently assume that this type of client is the one that is quite seasoned at complaining. It’s quite possible that they pride themselves on the number of refunds, compensation and freebies that they can get. They essentially bully businesses into doing what they request to avoid poor reviews or bad mouthing.
The other type of client will normally have a totally different approach, chances are they don’t like a fuss, they’ll perhaps go about making a complaint in a totally different way, they may even be apologetic for bringing the problem to your attention.
So How Do You Deal With These Two Different Customers?
You deal with them identically! I’ll tell you why shortly.
First of all, don’t take it personally. EVERYONE makes mistakes, seriously we ALL do. It’s to be expected, so don’t beat yourself up over it, unless of course the mistake was a result of incompetence or general lack of care in which case you really should take a lesson from it!
Regardless of how the complaint was made, Customer number 1 may call to see you in person or call you, Customer number 2 might post something publicly on your Facebook wall or group, usually with an aggressive tone and way too many exclamation marks!!!!!!!! as it’s a well known fact that exclamation marks get results right? In either instance you should respond initially by thanking them for contacting you along with an apology that your product or service hasn’t met with their expectations. You should then let them know your name ( if they don’t already know it) and tell them that you will deal with the problem personally.
If the complaint has come via a public forum such as Facebook, ask them to private message you with a contact number so that you can deal with the problem immediately) this gets it out of the public domain and also lets others who have read the message see that you are dealing with the situation in a professional manner. Most people will read the signs of a troublemaker and so such a post on your Facebook wall isn’t usually an issue. If at any point this type of complaining customer becomes abusive or threatening ( and this normally happens over the phone rather than face to face) then simply ask them to calm down, tell them that if they continue to behave in this way then you’ll hang up, if they continue, then do just that, hang up! Seriously, nobody has the right to vent in an abusive manner, I simply refuse to speak with people who act childishly, if, when they call back, ask them if they are prepared to discuss things in an adult fashion and start again. NEVER lower yourself to arguing back. Keep the situation calm and controlled and eventually they will simmer right down and you can carry on.
Making It All Better
Normally, dealing with customer complaints involves restoring the status that existed before the transaction, so bear in mind that at the very least you need to be prepared to make that happen. Be prepared to lose a little money on putting it right. I see lots of people posting on business forums who feel hard done by because they’ve lost money after a complaint.
Look at it this way, the average business spends 15% of it’s turnover on marketing, this varies depending on the industry that you’re in but essentially it means that it costs £15 to generate £100 of business. For those of you with repeat customers, finding new ones can be difficult and can cost £100s whilst losing clients is totally free and is really easy to do! It’s much better to take a hit to put things right, even the most aggressive clients can be turned around if you handle their complaint well.
By far the best approach that I’ve found is to first of all listen to what the complaint is. As you’re listening you can start to think of possible remedies in your head. Once the customer has finished explaining then I find it’s normally best to
- Reaffirm your apology and state that you want to put it right and to ensure that they’re happy.
- Ask this question, “Could I ask, what can I do to put this right for you?”
Nine times out of ten, you’ll be amazed at just how little the client expects, It may not even be a refund, it could just be that they wanted you to know that you’ve failed them. The reason being is that most of us don’t like confrontation and so when something happens that disappoints us enough to make a complaint we’re put in an uneasy situation. If our complaint is met with hostility then we immediately get the big guns out to reaffirm our position, If however we’re met with a genuine apology and then we’re asked what can be done to put things right we usually self diffuse. When offered to name our own solution to put things right we very often back down and ask for nothing or something small as generally we don’t like to look like a free loader.
Even the unreasonable customers, the ones that littered your Facebook page with exclamation marks very often diffuse after this question is asked. Granted, they may make more of a demand but it’s usually one you can meet.
The important thing is here however is that either way you’ve met or exceeded their expectations, you’ve been professional, apologetic and you’ve dealt with their grievance to their satisfaction. How many times have you had a problem with a company? If that complaint was satisfied in a way that made you feel valued then have you gone on to recommend that company to others? I know I have. It really isn’t worth standing your ground when a complaint comes along, obviously, if the complaint involves serious injury or loss then don’t even try to negotiate, turn it over to your insurance company and let the legal professionals deal with it. Hopefully you’ll never have that type of issue to deal with!
Do you have any other ways that you deal with complaints? I’d love to hear them in the comments section below.