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CUSTOMER SERVICE

8 Steps to Squash a Customer's Complaint

Before you rush to defend yourself or fight back remember to put yourself in your customer's shoes.

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Customer complaints are inevitable.  If you run a business that sells to the public no matter how great your goods or services are the old adage will eventually be proven true: You cannot please 100% of the people 100% of the time.

Most customer concerns can be dealt with simply by complying with the person’s reasonable requests. From time-to-time, however, you will come across those customers who will demand something that simply is unwarranted or impossible to deliver. No matter the issue at the heart of the complaint it is important to remember these rules when resolving your customer service issues:

1.  Listen

Whenever you set out to handle a customer complaint the first thing that you must do is listen. Listen to the customer to figure out why they are upset. Listen to the customer to determine whether any of your policies were not abided by or if this is something outside or not contemplated by your systems. Listen to what they want from you to resolve the issue. A refund? A replacement? Someone else to replace their current service representative at your company?

All too often we are defensive when dealing with customer complaints. Being defensive, at least at the onset, can inhibit your ability to truly understand why the customer is not satisfied with your products. They will tell you the problem, how they think it should be resolved, and give you a critical window into their thinking on the matter. So before you say anything, before you attempt to explain anything, challenge their complaint, or offer a resolution to the situation, listen.  

2.       Understand

Next, put yourself in the shoes of the customer. Given what you now know try and see their point of view. Why did they come to you? Is there merit to their complaint? Is their proposed resolution reasonable given the issue? Until you view the issue from their perspective you cannot have a complete picture of the reason for the complaint. So always think, if I was in their shoes how would I feel?

3.       Elevate

Once you have heard the complaint and understand the basis for the same, elevate the customer to a supervisor or manager where possible. If the issue is with the front-line employee this will instantly remove some if not all of the customer’s acrimony towards their current representative at the company allowing them to have a more open conversation with someone else. Often this move alone is sufficient to alleviate some of the customer’s concerns by instilling in them a sense of importance, that their complaint is significant enough to be elevated to someone higher in the chain of command.

One note of caution, when elevating be careful to fully inform the person the issue is being elevated to of the relevant facts prior to having them speak with the customer. If this is not done the new representative will be in a position which they must ask the customer to repeat what happened. While most customers, as part of the venting process, will gladly share their story again with the supervisor they should not be made to feel that they must do so for the process to continue to run its course.

4.       No Fighting

Defend if you must. But do not fight with the customer. What is the difference you may ask? Often times it comes down to tone and respect. Recall, whether correct or not your customer believes that they are correct. As such, they may be 100% wrong but fighting about the issue will only exacerbate their complaint.

Your job in handling the matter is to listen, understand, and then discuss with the customer their concerns in a calm and friendly manner while conducting an open discussion regarding the issues complained of and how they will be responded to. Fighting with the customer will never resolve the issue and will only lead to heightened aggression and anger on their part. As such, calmly defend your policies or personnel if you must but do not permit the conversation to erode into a argument at any point.

5.       Resolution

Offer a resolution where possible. Once you have listened and understood the customer’s complaint and have avoided fighting over the same divert the customer’s focus to how you intend to resolve the matter. Here it is difficult to include all manners of resolution which can be offered given the nature and scope of the goods and services which could be offered, but some suggestions include offering a refund or partial refund of monies paid, if warranted. Discounts on future goods or services is another popular remedy. If the issue is personnel specific simply offering to change out their representative with another will often suffice.

The psychology of the offering of a resolution cannot be understated. Recall, the goal is to resolve the customer dispute with the customer being fully satisfied with your goods or services. Even if the customer’s complaint is unwarranted listening, understanding, elevating, and offering some form of resolution allows the customer to feel that they have won, that they were correct, and that your organization wants to make it right. For most, this will resolve the issue and they will be satisfied. Unfortunately, however, there will always be those select few that you cannot please no matter what you offer. For those, you must incorporate resolve.

6.       Resolve

In every customer service situation you will ultimately come to a point of what you can and cannot do to address the issue. Most situations will be able to be addressed and the customer issue resolved to their satisfaction. Unfortunately, from time-to-time, there will be issues which simply cannot be resolved. Whether it is because the customer is requesting something that is outside of your stated policies on such matters or are simply being unreasonable in their requests. For these customers you must understand that despite your best reasonable efforts to offer a reasonable resolution they are unwilling to join you in reality and, accordingly, although our aim is always to please the customer if that which the customer demands cannot be satisfied you must maintain your best offered solution and no more.

7.       Writing

Ultimately, when all is said and done and a resolution has or has not been reached always take the time to memorialize the same in writing. If, as in most cases, the matter is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction, you will want to send the customer a brief follow-up email confirming that the issue has now been resolved and the specific resolution involved. In those unfortunate times when a solution cannot be reached, you want to send an email clearly memorializing what transpired such that should the issue ever come back you can quickly review the email and be versed in the same as needed.

8.       Learn

Above all, use customer complaints as a manner to learn about potential flaws in your systems. Maintain a manner of tracking customer complaints and the resolution thereof such that, over time, trends or specific issues may be identified to the point that if you see one or more specific situations occurring with any frequency systems can be amended or put into place to address the same in the future before they become future complaints.

Last updated: Mar 13, 2012

MATTHEW SWYERS is the founder of The Trademark Company, a Web-based law firm specializing in protecting the trademark rights of small to medium-size businesses. The company is ranked No. 138 on the 2011 Inc. 500.
@TrademarkCo




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