Many businesses dread customer complaints, and follow the ‘head in the sand’ approach when they happen.
You can simply ignore the complaint as best you can in the hope that the customer will go away.
They might well go away – or they might get more and more irate, and start telling lots of other people about it too.
But here’s the odd thing about complaints. Handle them well, and you not only end up with a satisfied customer, but sometimes one who might stay with you for life.
So what are the biggest no-no’s when responding to a customer complaint?
- Giving the customer free rein to complain some more
Try and focus initially on the single or main complaint your customer has with you, and contain it. You can then discuss it in more detail, and find a way to appease the customer with replacement product, bonus service or discount voucher.
Launching straight in with an open question like: “Do you have any other complaints about our business?” is inviting an onslaught. Your customer will be fired up anyway, and likely to have a string of bones to pick.
Hose down the initial situation before probing any further. This will increase your chance of having a productive conversation about ways in which your customer service can improve.
- Being too slow to respond
Several things happen when you’re too slow to respond to a complaint – none of them particularly edifying.
The customer gets even angrier because you’re ignoring them. They start bombarding you with calls and emails. They start telling their friends and complaining on social media. Or they cancel your service, and you’ve just lost vital business.
Respond as quickly as you can and you have a strong chance of salvaging the relationship, even strengthening it.
- Failing to see the truth
It’s too tempting to blame the customer for the complaint, rather than looking honestly at the product or service at the centre of the problem.
If you dismiss the customer as a trouble-maker before assessing the facts, you’re ignoring a crucial indicator about the health and quality of your business.
Complaints can yield valuable information about the nature of your employees, product or service – if you care to listen and see.
- Actively encouraging complaints
Be careful about those special concessions you offer your customers. Promise a discount for late service, and you’ll find a mysterious increase in the number of ‘late’ services occurring. Give a freebie to anyone who discovers your product for sale at a lower rate elsewhere, and – if you haven’t done your homework – it might put you out of business.
Factor in all costs and possibilities when working out your marketing deals, or pay the price.
- Ending things on a bitter or aggressive note
Even if an annoyed customer decides to leave your business, be graceful and polite. Respect their decision, and ensure a smooth passage.
If the customer tries a couple of your rivals, they might discover you were actually a pretty good deal. So leave the door open for a return, and say you hope to see them back at some point in the future.
- Being dishonest.
It’s easy to make a quick promise to a customer just to get them off your back.
So assuring them you’ll get that vital package posted tonight – when you know the product is out of stock and the courier is unavailable – is simply a recipe for disaster.
It’s far better to face the music, fess up to the mistake and work out a realistic way to solve the problem. Don’t gain a reputation as one of those business owners who promises heaps and fails to deliver.
Finally, if you’re a small business, work out a detailed complaints strategy so you have a blueprint to work from when complaints happen.
And if you’re a larger company, consider setting up a dedicated 1800 number as a customer care line. Generally, 1800 numbers cost very little considering they allow free calls for customer feedback from anywhere in Australia.