Dealing with complaints or difficult customers is part of every staff member’s role; one that should be accomplished with tact and a graciousness that leaves the customer feeling valued.
A complaint, no matter how trivial it might sound to you, is legitimate in the eyes of the customer and must be taken seriously. Customers come into your organisation to do business. They have a need and they believe (or hope) that you will be able to fulfil that need. They are willing to pay for your time, effort and service and they expect your full and undivided attention. If they do not receive this attention or a satisfactory product or service, then they are not receiving value for their money and then have every right to complain.
In dealing with complaints and problems, in the first instance, it is important to acknowledge the customer and their right to complain. Ignoring them, or hoping that if you don’t pay attention to the problem it will go away, will often do just the opposite.
So when problems or complaints arise it is important to, first, define and clarify exactly what the problem is. Only when you fully understand the issues can you find a mutually acceptable solution and by using effective communication skills you can gain the understanding you need and shows the customer that you have taken them seriously
No business, no matter how well it’s staff are trained or how good their products and services are, will entirely avoid receiving customer complaints. Some may be easy to deal with while others may involve complex issues that need to be negotiated and carefully considered. How you receive and handle these complaints will depend on which category they fall in to.
Types of complaints and issues you may need to deal with will vary and can include;
Product related complaints. Some of the most common complaints are related to the products or services offered by an organisation and may specifically involve;
poor quality of the product or service
high price compared to products or services offered by competitors
missing pieces or difficulties in assembly
product is the wrong size or colour .. and so on.
Service related complaints. These might be related to;
the time customers have to wait for a service to be delivered or an enquiry answered
issues with the staff providing the service
incorrect information given by staff
shipping or delivery problems
poor user experience in general
Public complaints. These could, arguably, be considered the worst type of complaint. In today’s world of instant communication, some of the most damaging complaints are those made on social media platforms. It is not uncommon for customers to air their grievances about a company online where the word can be spread far and wide in a very short space of time.
Complaints due to misunderstandings. Good communication skills will often avoid misunderstandings, where a customer is expecting a specific type of product or service and has not fully understood the nature of what they are purchasing. Equally, if the terms and conditions of a sale were not fully explained or disclosed, then the customer may not be satisfied.
Loyal customer complaints. These types of complaints should be taken very seriously as loyal customers represent repeat business; they trust your organisation which is why they continue to do business with you and if you lose this trust it may take considerable effort to win it back.
With a whole world of choices and options available to the consumer today, it is essential to make sure your customers are happy and continue to do business with you; after all – if you can’t provide the service they are after there are many other organisations that can and will.
In receiving a complaint, you need to engage with a customer in a calm and professional manner so any engagement you have with them should be done in line with the organisation’s policies and procedures. These have been put in place so that staff know what is expected of them, and how they are to behave, in any given situation, so following these directions is important, especially when receiving complaints.
Customer engagement can happen in a number of ways including;
in writing – if the complaint was sent to you via the post then you should acknowledge it in the same way (unless the customer’s letter invites you to phone or email them). Any letters sent out should be produced in line with the organisation’s style guide; using the correct letterhead, type face and level of formality.
in person – if the customer has come in to your store or office to lodge their complaint you can offer an apology and discuss the issue with them there and then. It is important, when dealing with a complaint in person, to use communication skills effectively. This might mean;
Acting and speaking calmly. Arguing with a customer or colleague could result in a full blown confrontation. Pause before making a response to them. This will give you time to collect yourself, to calm any irritation you might feel and also gives you a chance to work out how to phrase your response in the most appropriate way.
Trying to put yourself in the other person’s place; empathise with them. Use expressions such as “I can understand why you would feel that way” and encourage them to share their point of view.
Listening carefully and completely to what they are saying. Hear them out without interrupting them. Show you are interested through a positive listening attitude and ask clarifying questions to make sure you have understood them correctly.
Being patient and understanding. Don’t interrupt them. Once they have had their say, they will generally be a lot calmer and easier to reason with. The problem can then often be resolved in a civilised manner.
Asking they what would like to happen to resolve the issue and then determine whether this is feasible. When asked for their opinions and needs customers will generally be very reasonable.
over the phone – this also can allow you to address an issue straight away. Many organisations may have specific protocols for customer contacts via the phone. Some of these can include;
answering the phone within a certain number of rings (usually within 3)
introducing yourself immediately so the caller knows who they are talking to
speaking clearly so that you can be easily understood
listening actively and take notes
using proper language – do not use slang or industry jargon
advising that you are going to transfer the call (if it’s necessary) and telling the caller who you are transferring them to.
being honest if you don’t know the answer to a question
email and online contact – many company websites have “contact us” forms. If a complaint or query comes in on such a form, or in an email, it should be answered within 24 hours.
social media – comments made on the company social media sites, such as FaceBook or Instagram, should be answered in a friendly, reassuring and non-aggressive manner. Entering into an argument with someone via social media can do significant damage to the organisation as “trolls” join the conversation, the thread loses its intended purpose and word is spread far and wide to the amusement of people who have nothing to do with the initial issue.
In any event, and depending on the complexity of the complaint, an acknowledgement, along with an apology, might be all that is needed to satisfy the customer.
If the matter is complicated and requires discussion however, then the acknowledgement should be no more than that; an acknowledgment that their complaint has been received, an apology for any inconvenience, and statement that the matter will be investigated.
When considering what to do with a complaint you may also need to be aware of the organisation’s policies and procedures on;
escalation processes – understanding your own role and responsibilities;
what authority do you have to make decisions?
what issues must you hand over to more senior staff for action or approval?
what information will you need to gather before handing the matter over?
stock handling processes – this involves managing the organisation’s inventory of products or services. In many cases the resolution to a complaint is to provide a replacement product or service. This is a cost to the organisation in that an item has being supplied but not paid for. This must be recorded in the stock list so that the inventory balances correctly during an audit or stock-take.
Assessing the complaint according to organisational policy
Once a complaint has been acknowledged you will need to assess it properly to determine what to do about it. This might involve defining the nature of the actual complaint in detail and deciding what outcome you want to achieve.
Define the complaint
Everyone involved in the complaint needs to agree on exactly what the problem is before it can be solved. This could mean describing it in terms of each person’s needs and understanding of the issue at hand. Questions to consider might include:
What is the exact nature of the problem?
Is it my problem to deal with?
Who else needs to be involved?
Should I escalate it up to the next level of authority?
Is it a matter of an actual faulty product or service or is it simply a misunderstanding?
Can I solve it?
What resources will I need?
What will it cost to solve the issue?
Is it worth solving?
Is this the real problem or merely a symptom of a much larger one?
If it is, who needs to know about it?
Does it need an immediate solution or can it wait?
Does the problem have ethical dimensions?
Are there any legal implications?
Will the solution affect something that must remain unchanged?
Will I need help?
Asking these types of questions will outline what all the issues are from various perspectives giving you a firm foundation for exploring options.
Depending on the nature of the problem and what it will take to resolve it, it might in extreme cases be worth letting the matter go. It is certainly important to keep a customer satisfied, but not at all costs. If a customer is being completely unreasonable and demanding, and if the resolution is too costly in terms of time, effort and resources, then sometimes it is the better option to lose that customer. This, of course, will be determined by your organisation’s policies in regard to customer service, and its marketing and financial strategies and should only be considered when all else has failed.