As I wrote in my post “The 7 Moments Of Truth To Give Great Customer Service”, the occasions when mistakes happen can be an opportunity to turn a potentially bad situation around, and create a customer for life. Here are 10 tips to turn a customer complaint into a win, and change a dissatisfied, complaining customer into a happy one and reduce the amount of (potential) damage to your business…
1) Treat the customer with respect.
Whatever you feel, whether you’re convinced it’s they who are at fault or not, don’t get angry, don’t raise your voice, just keep calm and listen to what the customer has to say – even when they are shouting at you!
Let them know their custom is important to you, and you want to make things right.
Use phrases like, “I can see how that has upset you,” or “Yes, if that had happened to me, then I’d feel like you do too.” This just shows that you empathise with their feelings – you’re not actually admitting you are wrong – but it can make a huge difference to the final outcome.
Agreeing with the customer by acknowledging how they feel – regardless of whether you think they are right or wrong – can help calm the situation down, and usually bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.
2) Refer to them by their name.
We have been taught that probably the most powerful word you can use to any individual is their name, so try and use it when you speak to them.
So, if your customer, Alan Smith, rings up with a complaint, you should use their name at appropriate times. For example, from the example in tip 1, you could say, “Mr. Smith, I can see how that has upset you,” or “Yes Mr. Smith, if that had happened to me, then I’d feel like you do too.”
One thing worth mentioning here, you should be using the more formal “Mr. Smith,” and not “Alan,” unless you are usually on first name terms with them when you deal with them.
3) Let them know the person dealing with their complaint has the authority to resolve the issue, and that you intend to deal with it quickly.
If you are a customer, and you have a problem, there is nothing worse than being passed from ‘pillar to post’ and having to explain the situation over and over again.
I know of some businesses where this passing from one person to another is intentional. They believe it gives the customer time to calm down, or even cause them to give up! This approach is a BIG mistake. The reverse is true. If a customer has taken the time and made the effort to complain, they are ALREADY angry enough to do something about it. DON’T make it worse.
If there is a genuine reason why you need to pass them across to another person once – i.e. from the person who answered the phone to the person who actually deals with complaints – then make sure it is clear why the call needs to be transferred.
For example, Alan Smith rings up with a complaint. The person who answers the phone just needs to say, “I’m sorry to hear you have a problem which has upset you, Mr. Smith. I’ll just transfer you to Valerie Jones, who will be only to happy to understand and fully resolve your problem.”
But… and it’s a BIG but… DON’T make the mistake of having the person answering the call ask the customer exactly what the problem is, UNLESS they are fully able to deal with and resolve the complaint.
I suggest you have a dedicated person who deals with your complaints, and that everyone who is ‘customer-facing’ knows who it is!
4) Take the complaint seriously for goodness sake!
I know people who have actually been laughed at and told to ‘stop being silly’ when they have complained!
Did you know… less than 4% of people (here in the UK) actually take the time or make the effort to complain? Forget about the British ‘stiff upper lip’ – the majority of people just can’t be bothered to complain!
These are the ones who go for a meal at a restaurant which isn’t quite right, and when the serving staff come over to ask if everything is okay, they just reply “Fine thank you,” rather than be honest and say it’s not cooked correctly!
The remaining people simply feel it won’t make any difference if they do complain. It is these last two groups who silently take their custom elsewhere.
5) Give them an explanation of how and/or why their problem has occurred.
For most people, it is not good enough just to apologise and try and ‘make things right.’ By taking the time to see exactly what the problem is, and then finding out and explaining what has happened (and why), you show you are taking the customer and their complaint seriously, which will help tremendously with making them feel it was worth their time and effort complaining in the first place.
6) If you have to call them back, give them a time… and STICK TO IT!
You can’t always solve a customer’s problem there and then, while they are on the phone, so there will be times when you have to do some investigating first.
On these occasions you will need to arrange to call them back, but whatever you do, DON’T promise to call them back with your findings, or with an answer, or with a decision, and then don’t call.
Even if you haven’t managed to get to the bottom of the problem, still call at the time you agreed. (Also see tip number 7).
7) Give (regular) progress reports, if necessary.
As mentioned in the previous tip, sometimes you can’t resolve the issue on the spot. Sometimes it requires some investigation, or it may involve a supplier or courier or other third-party where you will need some time for it to be looked into properly.
Make sure you go back to them REGULARLY so they know what the latest situation is. This also strengthens you case with them, and they will feel more assured that you are taking this issue seriously, and that you are truly doing something to resolve it.
Again, let them know their custom IS important to you, and you want to make things right.
8) If possible, give customers options to resolve the problem.
I’ve witnessed situations where one business forced a refund on someone, when they were actually looking for a replacement, and another where the business would only offer credit against future purchases, when the customer wanted a full refund because the product was faulty out of the box.
In both of the above cases, the customer’s never bought from those businesses again – bad move on the part of the business!
Give your customers a choice… repair, replacement or full refund. You’ll be surprised at the results you get with this approach. In the majority of cases, the customer will not only buy from you again, they are also more likely to tell others about the way you handled their problem, and to refer you to people they know who could also benefit from what you offer.
9) Apologise (yes, really), whether it’s you mistake or not.
One thing I learned as a child growing up as one of four siblings is that sometimes, saying sorry, whether it is you fault or not, goes a long way to preventing problems or disputes escalating into longterm grievances.
It’s not about taking the blame for something which someone else has done, but about making the other person feel you are taking responsibility for the problem, even when it was their fault.
Let me give you an example to show you what I mean…
Even if it’s the customer’s fault, you can still apologise – “Mr. Smith, I’m sorry that’s how you feel about…” or “I’m truly sorry that this problem has made you feel angry, Mr. Smith…”
Taking this approach will go a lot further than “Er, you’re wrong, so stop wasting my time.”
I’ve never yet seen a business (or an individual, for that matter) hurt by apologising for something which wasn’t their fault.
10) Assure them the problem has been resolved and won’t happen again.
Please, please, PLEASE make sure you find out the root cause of the problem and put measures in place to prevent it from happening again.
The only thing worse, from a customer’s perspective, than having a problem in the first place, is having the exact same problem happening AGAIN.
What does this say about your business if you can’t seem to take the proper corrective action?
I used to use and recommend a print company. For many years, the quality of their work was excellent. Then, everything seemed to go to pot. There was a problem with almost every order I placed. There were apologies, and reassurances that it wouldn’t happen again every time I called, yet the problems kept reoccurring.
At first I stopped recommending them, then soon after that I stopped using them altogether. They tried desperately to get my business back, but by then the damage had already been done.
So, those are my 10 tips to turn a customer complaint into a win. This is your time to shine and turn a bad situation good – to your advantage – so, don’t waste it.