CUSTOMER SERVICE

Customers Complain. Here Are 5 Rules to Help Your Employees Deal With It

Get your staff to follow this easy five-step process and your customers will be happier than ever.
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No matter the size of your business, your success will always lie in your ability to deal with customers. In an age when consumers have so many different options they can turn to, one factor that can significantly set you apart is an emphasis on reliable customer service. If you can effectively handle a customer's questions and troubleshoot her problems, it is bound to add to the overall growth of your business.

I recently talked with Andy Cohen, CEO of Rock Properties, a property management company in Newark, New Jersey, who has been working for years at perfecting his customer service process. Here are Cohen's five steps to train his employees to effectively respond to customer complaints:

1.  If you take it, you own it.
No matter the seniority, the person at your company who takes a complaint is fully responsible for following it through to a resolution. Don't pass the buck. Make sure it gets fully resolved.

2. Act quickly.
Here is your chance for the company to shine. Look at the complaint as a gift, a moment to show off the brand--that is, the part of it that makes people satisfied, not the part that messes up sometimes.

3. Validate.
Let customers know--in the immortal words of Bill Clinton--that you feel their pain. Let them know that you empathize with what they are going through. Say, "I understand how upset you must feel." Who can argue with that? This will work for you even when you've done nothing wrong. You are not necessarily agreeing with the customer or apologizing, when you say it. You're just walking in his shoes.

4. Say you're sorry. 
Everyone makes mistakes. Customers understand that. They just want you to fix it when you screw up. In the meantime, don't be afraid to say, "I'm sorry. This is not how we like to do business." This doesn't get you off the hook. It just acknowledges the problem, which everyone appreciates. It also reinforces that your brand, vision, and culture don't have room for what went wrong.

5. Don't try to minimize the issue.
Don't try and convince the customer that it's really not as bad as he thinks. That feels patronizing, which just pours gasoline on the embers, and puts him back on defense. No one wants to feel unjustified. That never works.

Then, to really make this customer service process work, at your next company meeting, tell the story of how one of your employees did a great job resolving a customer complaint and recognize him as a hero. It's a teachable moment that will get your staff prepared the next time something goes wrong. Don't pass up the chance to reward a job well done--even if it started when something went wrong.

Implement these principles into your customer success strategy and you're sure to enhance your customers' satisfaction. When in doubt, ask yourself: How would I want a customer service issue to be resolved? Then, walk in your customer shoes, and make sure you're resolving the issue they way your customer would want.

How do you deal with customer complaints?

Last updated: Jul 24, 2013

DAVE KERPEN | Columnist | CEO, Likeable Media

Dave Kerpen is the CEO of Likeable Local. He is also the co-founder and chairman of Likeable Media and the New York Times best-selling author of Likeable Social Media and Likeable Business. Want to learn about how to grow your business using social media in two minutes? Click here.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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