No one likes to hear that they are doing something wrong, least of all a business. The idea that you have upset, angered or disappointed a customer can be a real blow to a company but as any entrepreneur will learn, complaints are a part of life. What matters most is not receiving the complaints themselves, but the way that businesses handle them is far more important.
But the businesses that perform the best are not those who just correct an issue when it appears. It is those who take a negative experience and flip it on its head to prevent similar problems from occurring in the future. As Microsoft’s co-founder, Bill Gates, once said: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”
Complaints are unavoidable, but CALLCARE are here to help. We have spoken to business experts from up and down the country to get their input on the best way to handle negativity when you get it, and how you can actually use it to your advantage.
1) Action complaints as quickly as possible
The worst thing you can do when you receive a complaint is stick your head in the sand and pretend that it’s not there. It won’t just disappear, if anything it’ll get worse as the customer will feel even more annoyed that you have ignored them. The best way to handle complaints is to address them head on, apologise where necessary, and do everything that you can to fix it.
Each situation is unique, and not every customer will be looking for a refund or a pay-out. Sometimes all they need is an acknowledgment of how they feel and an apology, so don’t be afraid of handling negative comments quickly, friendly, and efficiently.
“Taking action as soon as you receive a customer complaint is not only key, it’s essential,” says Sharon Clapp, Head of Customer Experience at Investor in Customers.
“Don’t forget that now more than ever, due to social media, word of mouth is not only the cheapest form of advertising, but on the flip side can haul your company’s name into the ‘dark side’! Ignore or delay at your peril. You will not only antagonise the complainant further, but will encourage them to publically. What will the end result be?
“Not only will you have lost their custom, but others will take note of your bad service and will also leave (if they are already customers) or potential customers will reconsider either working with or buying from you.
“Respond to a complaint immediately, or certainly within a couple of hours at the most,” she advises. “Keep them informed and updated at all times. Keep calm, empathise and take ownership. Follow these rules and not only will you defuse the situation, you will gain their confidence and thereby stand more chance of retaining the customer.”
2) Treat them as individuals
You may have heard a particular complaint or concern multiple times, and whilst it can be difficult not to become equally frustrated when dealing with an angry customer, all they want is to feel like they are unique, and treated as such.
Listen to them. Acknowledge how they feel. And make the apology more personal. If you have heard the problem in the past, let them know that you are aware of it (in a very polite manner) and that you have passed on their feedback to highlight the urgency, and that you are working on a solution.
Feeling like a number on a spreadsheet or like you are no different from any other customer is hardly the best way to encourage them to return and spend money with you. Be open to handling a complaint or problem a slightly different way for each customer, or perhaps think about altering the processes you have in place. It can be such a small change to you but sometimes it can mean a world of difference to your customer.
3) Always be professional
This tip really goes without saying, but it should be emphasised that no matter what is being said to you over the phone, your staff should always strive to maintain a professional and helpful manner.
Whilst it isn’t necessarily true that the customer is always right, it should always be an adviser’s top priority to make sure they walk away as happy as possible that the problem has been rectified. Even if they feel like the customer is being unreasonable, imagine the kind of negativity they could spread to their friends and family about your company? And right there, you have lost an untold number of potential customers.
“It’s paramount that our customer care staff maintain a calm and polite manner whilst dealing with customers on
the phone,” advises Tom Jeffery, Head of E-Commerce at Jules B.
“Not only to stay in line with the image of the brand but also to make sure that we keep our customers happy. Being professional and courteous is key no matter who the customer is and it’s the way to keep them shopping with us time and time again.”
4) See it as feedback, not a complaint
This can be a difficult one to accomplish, as it can be tricky not to take complaints personally. But incredible nuggets of precious information are buried in even the angriest of phone calls.
Virtually every single complaint is actually your customers giving you direct feedback on how your business can make them happier. Unless of course there is a very serious issue that needs dealing with, there is no reason why you can’t change your mindset and start thinking of your complaints as feedback for you to action. Of course, don’t just dismiss the complaint and say you’ll do better in the future; do everything you can to solve the problem, and then put processes in place to try and ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
Sandra Murphy, SME Consultant at Business Doctors, is a strong advocate of this mindset:
“Try not to see them as ‘complaints’ but always as ‘feedback from critical friends’ because complaints can help you identify recruitment needs and training gaps if your staff aren’t responding how you need them to.
“They can help you with existing product enhancement; is your product or service still fit for purpose or is it time for an upgrade? The answer could well be found by searching through customer complaints.
“Complaints can help with new product development; they may help you to identify a gap in the market that’s not being met by you or anyone else.
“They can provide competitor intelligence if you’re hearing that someone else is doing a better job than you.
“I would advise business owners to always welcome complaints. If your customers aren’t telling you they’re unhappy, you can be sure they will be telling someone else about it, whilst moving their business elsewhere. Use it as an opportunity to make sure they know how much you value their views and their business. Turn what could be a negative into a positive customer experience – that’s what you want them telling their friends about.”
5) Don’t just wait for the customers to complain
You can’t predict every problem before it hits; and as we’ve mentioned before, complaints are a part of life that businesses will just have to accept.
If you find that a problem is regularly cropping up, leap into action and get to the root of the issue before it develops into something bigger. Or, if you have just implemented a new process, launched a new product line or something else brand new within the customer-facing side of your business, be prepared for teething problems.
Start taking steps now towards proactive customer service. Get your teams together, including the ones who actually deal with customer complaints, and work to come up with actionable ways to prevent complaints in the future.
Sean Mallon, CEO of Bizdaq, believes that whilst it isn’t always possible for companies to predict what their customers are going to say, it is in their best interests to be as forward-thinking as possible:
“Relying on people to get in touch and complain when they find an issue can be a dangerous tactic; what if they don’t get in touch? There’s always only so much you can do to find and address problems yourself, and waiting for people to let you know when they have a problem can leave you at the mercy of customers who can easily just go somewhere else.
“Taking a reactive approach to customer complaints and waiting for them to come to you will always leave you behind and playing catch-up. Taking a proactive approach and finding the issues before they become complaints will not only save you time in the long run, but potentially money as well.”
How do you handle customer complaints? Let us know how you use them to your advantage!
Here at CALLCARE, we’re passionate about helping businesses up and down the country. We’re here to help you with all aspects of your customer service; we want to make sure your customers are as happy as possible! Why not get in touch with our team today to see how we can help you and arrange your complimentary consultation?