Every business receives complaints from customers from time to time. Even the most slick operation with the best product in the world will make mistakes or have mishaps which mean unhappy customers complain about the product or service they have received. Clearly every company strives to drive a perfect order process but sometime the most disconnected event can impact perhaps making a perfect delivery late, despite all the efforts to the contrary. I once had a call from a very angry hotel General Manager, complaining that the lorry delivering our goods had reversed into pipes in a docking bay – to say the least, carelessly ceasing supply of electricity to a whole hotel. Not one of my better days. Not my truck company, not my driver, not my intention, still absolutely all my problem and without excuse to anything other than we let the customer down I have never been more apologetic, I took full ownership of the situation and did everything I could think of to make amends. I later discovered the same General Manager voted my company as supplier of the year.

A customer complaint is a great opportunity to show your customer just how brilliant you are.

An example: a friend ordered some products from a company, and when they arrived one was faulty. She emailed the company and received a response within five minutes saying “I’ve got a replacement in my hand; I’ll send it out today.” My friend went from feeling neutral about the company to raving about their fantastic customer service.

We all know the oft-quoted statistic that people will tell more people about a bad experience than a good experience. It’s important to resolve customer complaints quickly and efficiently to ensure your business doesn’t receive any more bad press than it has already had before the person contacted you. Have you trained your team in this regard? Have they the same freedom to make decisions and put things right within certain boundaries, allowing them to feel comfortable to own the problem?

A customer complaint is the perfect opportunity to wow your customer and to improve their opinion of your business. When you deal with a customer complaint well, you restore your customer’s faith in your product and service, and make them more likely to return to you next time. Indeed a statistic that always horrifies me is 64% of companies change suppliers because of a lack of attention, so added to the gift of a complaint, never forget to love the hand that feeds you? Never take for granted any touchpoint with the consumer. Last year we spent too long researching the packaging and style of others products on our e-commerce provision, yet the outcome has been excellent and perhaps therefore worth the time and effort.

Here are some tips for effectively dealing with customer complaints in order to turn your complainant into a repeat customer:

  • Don’t get defensive. The customer is always right, and unless they are someone who is really taking the mickey, it’s easier and better for your long term reputation if you just accept that a mistake was made.
  • Don’t over explain. Unless your customer demands a full and detailed explanation of what went wrong, don’t waste both their time and yours by giving useless information. At the end of the day, a complaining customer just wants their issue resolved. Do that as your priority, when it takes time to put things right, keep the customer informed of the steps in the process. Sometimes an accepted substitute can be the most painless way forward.
  • Find out what went wrong. While your customer probably doesn’t want to know every tiny detail of what happened to cause their complaint, you and your key players should investigate thoroughly. This is especially important if more than one customer has made a similar complaint. You need to get to the bottom of what has gone wrong, and put things in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The relentlessness of a culture that always considers a mistake as an opportunity for systems improvement, training and overall better service is the right kind of culture to work in. No one should be blamed but people must take responsibility when something does go wrong.
  • Be timely. My friend’s complaint was resolved within five minutes, and that should be your aim. Ok, so five minutes is probably unrealistic for most of us – but aim to resolve an issue as fast as is realistically possible. At the very least, send a response email as soon as possible to reassure them you have read their message and will get back to them when you have an answer.
  • Apologise. Be aware there may be legal implications to apologising if the complaint is a large one. For most of us though, saying sorry will go a long way to building bridges. Again, and irrespective of a third party supplier being the cause, you recruited or appointed them to provide a service and the service is for your product, hence your problem. Never blame others and be fast to make a genuine apology.
  • Fix it. If a product is faulty, send a replacement or offer a refund. If it’s a complaint about service, offer a gesture of goodwill. Don’t make things difficult by asking people to post a faulty item back to you unless you are prepared to pay for the postage. Often a photo will serve as proof of the issue if a product has broken. If the resolution of a complaint is not immediately obvious, you could always ask your customer: “how can I make this right?”
  • Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. If this had happened to you, what would you want to happen next? This can be the best way to formulate a policy for dealing with complaints. The best yet complaints training I know of is with They train their teams to solve any and all consumer problems – the training is simply to treat the person as if they are your granny. Noo one wants to make granny unhappy.

Every business should have a procedure in place for dealing with complaints, so that everyone in the business knows how to deal with one. This should be universal so that one person complaining on a Monday receives the same response as someone complaining two weeks later on a Thursday.

This is a good opportunity to bring your staff together and ask them for their input on customer complaints. Everyone has their own story of a great or disastrous experience with making a complaint; use these to set out exactly what you do and don’t want to do for your customers.

I believe we should see every complaint as an opportunity. It is an opportunity to turn the complainant into a repeat customer, but it’s also an opportunity to amend your processes and improve your business. Complaints serve as priceless feedback to show you where you can improve your business; make use of them and – as long as you make changes based on their feedback – your business will go from strength to strength.

Written by Vicky Charles

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