Complaints are a natural part of running a business. Whether you're selling products or services, you'll inevitably receive at least one customer complaint (and probably many many more). At Service Central we take the attitude that service complaints are an opportunity to improve your business - they highlight areas of communication improvement potential, areas of operational or skill improvement potential, and many more. More and more customers are evaluating businesses not on a 100% perfect track record but a track record that shows when there are problems the company is dedicated to resolving issues proactively*.
No matter which channel you receive the complaint through (email, telephone, online) it might feel confrontational and uncomfortable. In my experience, owning my own business means that I take service complaints a bit more personally than I would if I were just working for someone else.But over the years I've learned that no business is perfect, that service complaints are never going to go away and that turning them into positive learning or improvement 'triggers' is a far more productive way to deal with them than getting emotional.
Prioritise dealing with service complaints speedily over all other tasks, because the longer you leave a complaint to 'fester' the nastier it's going to get - your customer will get angrier and you will let it prey on your mind and build up into a far more challenging issue than the complaint was originally.
So my first piece of advice is to Remain Calm and Rational. Easier said than done, but don't react emotionally - if you are in danger of picking up the phone and telling the customer where to get off, go outside and walk it off. Service Central has intervened in many a stand-off between customers and our registered businesses, and we know how hard it is to talk a customer down once the business has reacted badly initially.
Next is to Listen Actively. That sounds a little 'touchy feely' but what it really means is that you need to listen to their concerns and at the same time let the customer know that you are listening. Asking questions (without interrupting), using listening noises (uh huh, go on, etc) and if you're dealing with this complaint face-to-face, making eye contact is key.
Once you've listened to your customer's complaint, it's time to Problem Solve. But problem solving can't always happen on the 'fly' so you also need to be able to extricate yourself from the complaint process (ie listening to the customer) so that you can resolve the issue and get back to the customer with the solution. Ensuring you have the skills to be able to pacify the customer and 'escape' to problem solve is not only important for making sure that your customer isn't getting angrier while you problem solve but also gives you the confidence to take a complaint from a customer and know that you're in control of the situation.
Identify the root cause of the complaint. The fact is that complaints usually arise when expectations are not met - and the root cause of this can be a few different things.
In all of these root causes, it's up to your business to fix what's caused the customer's complaint. Even if the customer's expectation is unreasonable, better communication up front and throughout the service delivery can diminish the likelihood of these complaints.
Identifying the root cause of the problem is the first step of problem solving because without understanding the cause of the problem you can't fix it.
Once you understand the root cause of the complaint, you're ready to give the customer a solution. The solution will be different on a case by case basis but here are some ideas for solutions:
The last step is to Review. I talk about the importance of 'review' in my 4 key steps to daily success, but service complaints should be a trigger to focus your review. Once you've fixed the problem you should review the situation to see whether it could happen again. It's also a fantastic customer service step to contact the complaining customer to a few days or even weeks after the problem to ensure that they are happy with the solution implemented. Giving the customer feedback on your review is also valuable, as your customer gets an opportunity to confirm in their heads that their complaint was taken seriously AND giving your business an opportunity to verbalise the review.*This is part of the reason why you get a 'right of reply' to any comments placed online about your business. Displaying your effective problem solving skills online is often more valuable to your business's reputation than simply a string of glowing recommendations.