So, one of your valued customers has a gripe with your business. Maybe a shipment was delivered unacceptably late. Or perhaps one of your over-enthusiastic sales team members made a promise he couldn’t fulfil. Or your accounts department overcharged.
Whatever it is, your customer is not happy, has made a complaint and it’s your task to deal with it.
What’s the best way to do that, so that the business relationship can get back on track? Of course, the last thing you want to do is to shoot yourself in the foot and make matters worse. The ideal outcome is one where your customer is not only placated but whose confidence in your business and the people who run it is fully restored.
In at least the majority of customer complaint scenarios, there are specific steps you can take to maximise the likelihood that you can convert an unhappy customer into a satisfied one. Here are seven of them:
Be quiet, and listen
The need to be listened to and feel truly heard is inherent in most people. Whether someone is complaining hysterically or thoughtfully, that person needs to get whatever it is off their chest, feel listened to and come away believing that their complaint is being taken seriously. This is where a strategy of saying nothing at all, at least for a little while, can pave the way for a mutually satisfying resolution.
By thanking the customer for bringing the problem to your attention you demonstrate that your business welcomes feedback in whatever shape it comes in. That’s an attribute that can’t be said of every business and will likely be appreciated by the customer.
However wild the accusation being thrown your way, it’s important to stay calm throughout. Direct confrontation rarely achieves anything, so toss that tactic in the bin.
Let the customer know that you understand their rationale for the complaint. Repeat back to the person what you understand their complaint to be and that you very much want to make things right. This doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with what the customer is saying – it’s simply affirming that you understand the perception the customer has.
If the customer’s grievance is justified, admit the error right up-front and apologise for it. Depending on the situation it may be helpful to explain how the mistake got made but often that’s not necessary. Either way a genuine apology can go far in taking the wind out of the complainant’s sails and helping lay the groundwork for a satisfactory resolution. Also important is not to ‘blame and shame’ an employee or department; instead simply say ‘I’m very sorry that happened.’
Offer a solution
This might seem obvious but it’s worth emphasising. Acknowledging the problem is one thing, solving it is another. Asking the customer how they would like their issue resolved can work wonders – you may be surprised to find they’re not asking for all that much. Failing that, offer a solution that will work for both of you and follow through with it as swiftly as possible. Also inform the customer of the steps you will take to ensure the problem will not happen again.
Within a few days of doing what you needed to do to resolve the complaint, get in touch with the customer to ensure they’re completely satisfied (particularly important if you’ve had to delegate to others to resolve the issue).
Both in personal and business relationships, often it’s not someone’s mistake that sours the relationship, it’s the poor way the aggrieved party was treated that does the long‑term damage. So tackle the issue head-on, own up if that’s appropriate, and solve the problem as quickly and as courteously as possible. That will demonstrate that you value not only the business relationship but also the customer as a human being.