Thursday 17th April 11:44

Questions and Answers: Customer Complaints

04qandacustomercomplaints_142I hate getting customer complaints. Is there any way to look at them in a positive way?
You're not alone. Most people hate complaints and often take it personally. Don't. Instead, take yourself out of things and use the experience as an opportunity to learn and improve you customer service.
OK. So how do I get round beating myself up or getting angry?
Learn to be assertive. In fact, use a customer complaint as a trigger to put you in an assertive state of mind. That's one in which you want a win-win solution.

Right. Any do's and dont's before we start?
Yes, a couple of big ones will suffice. Do treat customer complaints as top priority and don't leave them waiting. When someone complains about a product or service, it almost certainly means they're very upset and will become more so if they don't get any kind of a response.

So, what's the first thing I should do?
When you've got a customer complaining, whether by phone or in person, there's only one thing to do first. And that's listen. Listen to everything that's being said. Words, tone, body language, information, feelings, problems, and even solutions. You'll know if you're listening by what you're doing.

How do you mean?
Well, run through a checklist in your head. Ask yourself. Have I stopped doing what I was doing? Are we somewhere where they can talk openly and I can hear them? Am I concentrating on them? Am I perfectly still and relaxed? Do I want to help them? You should be able to answer "Yes" to every one of these questions.

OK. So, what do I say when they've finished telling me what the problem is?
Let them know that you're glad they've raised the problem and that you want to help them sort it out. Notice that I said, "help them".

You mean I don't solve it?
To the extent that you don't do it alone, yes. One way to do this is to use the word, "we", as in, "It's important that we sort this out..."

Right, got that. What comes next?
Once you've calmed them down and reassured them that you're going to sort it out with them, you need to check back that you understand what the real problem is. You can do this with a mixture of open, closed, and summarising questions.

Can you give me some examples?
Sure. An open question opens up more information, for example, "Can you tell me what happened after you switched the computer on?" A closed question closes them down and gives you precise answers, as in, "So the screen just went blank?" And a summarising question puts your understanding into a question back to the person. "So, you bought the computer last week, and it worked OK until today when you couldn't get to the normal desktop screen and hadn't done anything different from usual?"

Got you. Do I now tell them what to do?
Well, you can. But before you do, let them know that you understand what they must have felt like when things didn't go as planned especially if they're upset. Say something like, "I don't blame you for feeling like you do. I'd feel exactly the same." Then you can ask, "What would you like me to do?" When you calm them down and show you understand and then ask what they want you to do, people are far more reasonable than when they feel aggrieved.

I can see that. I've heard it helps to use their name.
Well, yes and no. If you know their name and it feels right to slip it in at the right moment, then do use it. If you're using it as a ploy, or over-using it to get on their good side, it might sound false and cause more antagonism.

Right. Any other tips?
Just three. First, whatever the problem is, don't blame others in your team. In fact, don't focus on what went wrong, focus on how to fix it. Second, do something straightaway. Show them you're going to fix it from your end. Third, if you have to, and if your team allows you to, break a few "normal" procedures to resolve the problem.

Anything else?
No, except that, before you finish, you can show them that you appreciate them bringing the matter to your attention. This doesn't need to be anything costly or time-consuming. It could be giving them some useful information or instructions. Or helping them with their goods back to the car. Or giving them your personal card.

Any last thoughts?
Not really. Except to say that the best way to help a customer complainer resolve a problem is to put yourself in their shoes. Treat them the way you would want to be treated yourself. If you do that, you'll turn a potential customer disaster into a certain customer triumph.