Observer on Saturday - - Analysis & Opinion -

Have a clear, flex­i­ble, wel­com­ing and open pol­icy on com­plaints.

A well-es­tab­lished com­plaint pol­icy will guide you into re­al­is­ing your in­ter­nal process flaws, find­ing the root cause and elim­i­nat­ing it. Cus­tomer com­plaints, there­fore should be taken as a bless­ing in dis­guise.

Give them con­fi­dence to tackle the dif­fi­cult cus­tomers and sup­port in their ac­tions. Ex­cel­lent com­plaint han­dling isn’t easy and can some­times be stress­ful and feel un­re­ward­ing. Con­firm its im­por­tance in pro­vid­ing great cus­tomer ser­vice.

Staff should be aware that com­plaints are a top pri­or­ity item for your op­er­a­tion, and any­one who deals with them must have suf­fi­cient au­thor­ity to re­solve them com­pletely. It be­comes eas­ier to re­tain com­plain­ing cus­tomers than get­ting back “de­parted” cus­tomers who left be­cause of your lack of ef­fec­tive­ness and ef­fi­ciency.

Nowa­days there are four main ways to com­plain; in per­son, by email/in­ter­net, by tele­phone or by mail and your or­gan­i­sa­tion must be able to han­dle all of these ef­fi­ciently.

There are sev­eral key stages when han­dling a com­plaint:

Thank the cus­tomer for com­plain­ing - You should con­sider your­self lucky that the cus­tomer is pre­pared to give up their time and money to let you know they have a prob­lem, in­stead of just walk­ing away a com­plaint is a gift.

Say that you are sorry that the prob­lem has hap­pened. This is not an ad­mis­sion of guilt on your part, it’s just good man­ners.

Put your­self in the place of the cus­tomer, this will in­stantly give you an ad­van­tage, as you not only will have more em­pa­thy with the cus­tomer, but also you know your busi­ness bet­ter than them and so can hope­fully see the so­lu­tion quicker.

Start with the view that the cus­tomer has a valid point, not that they are try­ing to rip you off - It is true that there are some pro­fes­sional com­plain­ers out there, but they are in the mi­nor­ity, and, if you are a lo­cal store, you prob­a­bly know them any­way. Ac­cept­ing that the cus­tomer may well have a point, even in­ter­nally, may well trig­ger off ideas for an ac­cept­able res­o­lu­tion.

Get all the facts first, let­ting the cus­tomer give you all of the in­for­ma­tion helps you fully un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion and, if they are emo­tional, give them time to calm down.

Cor­rect the mis­take, don’t leap straight to the “free gift” route. While it is very tempt­ing to give the cus­tomer a gift, or vouch­ers, too of­ten it is done in­stead of solv­ing the prob­lem. This can lead to more com­plaints about the same thing in the fu­ture be­cause the prob­lem has not been fixed.

Make sure that your def­i­ni­tion of the right fix is the same as the cus­tomer’s. In short, have a mu­tual agree­ment with your cus­tomer.

Learn from ev­ery com­plaint - Do some­thing! Fix the process, train staff in the is­sue and elim­i­nate the root cause of the fault. Wher­ever pos­si­ble let the com­plain­ing cus­tomer know that they have helped you re­solve a prob­lem - they’ll feel great and come back again and again (and will prob­a­bly tell their friends not to com­plain per se but with a help­ing hand.

Min­imise rea­sons for com­plaints, do you have a con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment cul­ture? do you check cus­tomer (and em­ployee) sat­is­fac­tion reg­u­larly? Do you check the qual­ity of the goods sold in your or­gan­i­sa­tion? If to any of the ques­tions above, your an­swer was to the neg­a­tive, think again!

Al­ways re­spond - Make sure that every­one who com­plains on the tele­phone, by let­ter, or by email gets a rapid and ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse.

Lis­ten to your staff, they nearly al­ways care about your com­pany and do­ing a good job. They are also much closer to the cus­tomers than you are. Ask their views reg­u­larly and make changes when they are sen­si­ble. Make sure their com­plaints are han­dled too.

Lead by ex­am­ple, it is not that your staff do not lis­ten to what you say, it is that they do lis­ten, so make sure that you are al­ways set­ting the right ex­am­ple, and giv­ing com­plaints your per­sonal pri­or­ity. Reward good com­plaints han­dling. Hint; money is a short-term mo­ti­va­tion.

Re­mem­ber - it costs at least five times as much to gain a new cus­tomer than keep an ex­ist­ing one. Keep­ing a com­plain­ing cus­tomer should be the top pri­or­ity, and at these cost ra­tios you can af­ford to be gen­er­ous in your time and ef­fort. FOR QUES­TIONS AND MORE IN­FOR­MA­TION e-mail us at:

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