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Transforming Customer Complaints into Growth Opportunities

Regardless of what business you are in, there is one constant – customer complaints.

Essentially, every customer wants three things (remember the Rule of Three?):

  1. To be listened to. This means asking follow up questions to make sure you fully understand what the complaint involves instead of immediately offering a solution that might not be appropriate.
  2. To be treated with courtesy and respect. It’s true some customers make unfair accusations and try to take advantage of the situation. Don’t let those few keep you from treating the majority kindly and politely. 
  3. To have their problem solved. Let them know up front what you CAN do, not ‘what is impossible’. Then, determine if this solution is one that satisfies their sense of fairness. 

Let’s expand on these fundamentals.

  • Listen Actively.
    • Give your full attention to the customer, showing empathy and understanding.
    • Let them express their concerns without interruption, even if they make what you consider to be an inappropriate claim.
    • Ask clarifying questions to ensure you fully grasp the issue.
    • Take ownership by using “I” not “they” or “them”. Scapegoating does nothing to satisfy the customer at this moment.
    • Acknowledge the customer’s frustration or inconvenience.
    • Apologize sincerely, even if the issue wasn’t your fault. At this moment you are the face of the company and you speak on its behalf.
    • Use a friendly and empathetic tone to convey your regret.
    • Never try to laugh it off or crack a joke. There is a time and place for humor (about which I’ve written before), this is neither the time or the place.
  • Resolve the Issue Promptly.
    • Aim to resolve the complaint as quickly as possible.
    • If you can’t provide an immediate solution, communicate a clear timeline for resolution.
    • Don’t assume the complainer wants something – for example money. Most of the time they just want to be heard.
    • Involve relevant personnel or departments to address complex issues.
  • Compensate Fairly:
    • Offer a fair and appropriate solution, such as a refund, replacement, or discount.
    • Be flexible and willing to meet the customer’s needs within reason.
    • Consider the long-term value of retaining the customer and their referrals.
  • Learn from Feedback:
    • Use customer complaints as opportunities for improvement.
    • Analyze common issues and identify root causes to prevent similar complaints in the future.
    • Train your staff to handle complaints effectively and prevent recurrence.

A positive case study.

My wife and I were staying at a hotel in the winter when an ice storm blew in overnight. The next morning my wife  got up and went to the car. Long story short, the hotel had not cleared the parking lot and it was ice covered. She slipped and fell. We later learned she broke her shoulder, though we did not know the extent of the injury at the time.

She immediately went to the front desk where she was treated politely and was provided a form to fill out (documentation is good for both sides). The next day the manager called to get all the details (listen actively). We immediately told him we were not interested in suing; however, we thought it fair that they cover our insurance co-pays. A few phone calls and days later and the deal was made.

Fair, courteous, and prompt. And they kept a customer.

A customer frustration can become an opportunity to create new loyalty. Loyalty is simply a feeling of trust. I trust if things go bad, you’ll be fair, courteous, and prompt.

Time to go, someone is complaining. 

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