Effective Complaint Management: 12 Steps to Customer Delight

Remember the last time you had a problem and made a complaint. Were you delighted with the outcome? How did you feel? Did you have any desire of buying its products or services again in the future?

If statistics are right, I would dare assert that your experience was very frustrating or, in the best of cases, indifferent.

Inadequate problem management is a widespread practice in companies. Either caused by lack of interest, procedures or staff training, bad complaint handling is a phenomenon that seriously affects satisfaction and the bond with customers.

Unfortunately, organizations tend to demonize “complainers”, they regard them as unwanted individuals and try to get rid of them as quickly as possible. In general, there’s a great level of disinformation and an inability to see the great opportunities offered by complaints to consolidate the image of the company and set it apart from competitors.

Indeed, although complaints make a company look bad, they help detect flaws and improve the quality of products and services; but even more important than that, they constitute an excellent opportunity to show customers how valuable they are, to surprise them with an outstanding solution process and to significantly strengthen their loyalty.

All companies fail every once in a while; that’s inevitable. The difference between service leaders and the rest is how they respond when they make a mistake that causes dissatisfaction in a customer. Legendary organizations such as Ritz-Carlton hotels, the Home Depot store chain or Cathay Pacific airline from Hong Kong understand very well the value of complaints and have clearly outlined the steps that need to be followed to efficiently address them.

Certainly, the best way to solve a problem is to do things right the first time so that it never happens, but when things do go awry it’s important that the staff is ready to respond accordingly.

Complaints cloud

The key relies in giving employees three things:

  1. The responsibility of effectively handling customer complaints
  2. Enough empowerment to make decisions they consider necessary to reach that goal (within certain boundaries)
  3. A frame of action or procedure that guides them throughout the process so as to achieve complaint management consistency across the organization.

It is precisely for this last point that we now present a guideline with the basic steps any employee must follow to transform a negative customer experience into a memorable one.

Step 1: Adopt a Positive Attitude

  • Attitude is the foundation of service. Without a positive attitude you will never find the necessary motivation to solve your customers’ problems.
  • Acknowledge the fact that customers are the most important thing for your organization and commit yourself to doing your best to delight them, everyday and in each interaction.
  • Develop a genuine interest in helping customers when they need you. Businesses are not just about money. Learn to enjoy doing something special for others and obtaining nothing but a thank you or a happy face in return.

Step 2: Reassure the Customer

  • If the customer feels too upset, communicating with him will be very difficult unless he calms down; therefore, allow him to vent his anger.
  • Let him talk and do not interrupt him.
  • Do not take any of his remarks personal.
  • Emphasize that your job is “to help him find a solution”.

Step 3: Establish Empathy

  • For a customer with a problem it is comforting to know that the employee understands his situation. Make a real effort to put yourself in the customer’s shoes.
  • Use emotional and empathetic lines such as: “I understand how you feel”, “I am sorry you had this experience with us”.

– Regardless of whether it’s the company’s fault or not, the problem is real. Face it and do not question the customer.

Step 4: Offer an Apology

– Offer an apology on behalf of the organization. Sometimes this is all customers want.

– Do not point fingers and do not put other departments or employees on the spot.

Step 5: Identify the Problem and the Cause

  • Ask effective questions that help you understand the problem and its cause.
  • Listen carefully to the customer.
  • Upset customers often stray away from the core issue. Get the conversation back in track when this happens.
  • Be as thorough as possible. Sometimes a complaint is just the tip of the iceberg.

Step 6: Guide the Customer

  • If the problem was caused by a product or service misuse, or was due to lack of awareness or information, explain the causes and instruct the customer so that this doesn’t happen again in the future.

Step 7: Request or Offer Alternative Solutions

  • Ask the customer how he would like his problem to be solved. If it’s in your hands, do it, otherwise request authorization. Do not worry, in most cases customer demands are much less than we imagine. What most customers want is a fair deal.
  • If what the customer requests is not feasible, offer him different alternatives to solve his problem. Not all people settle for the same.

Step 8: Communicate the Steps to Follow

  • Explain the customer all the steps and / or actions you will undertake to get his problem solved.
  • Agree on a contact channel and frequency to keep him posted during the whole process.

Step 9: Solve the Problem

  • Embrace the complaint. Do not ask yourself if it has to do with your job function. The customer complained to you, so this complaint is “yours” and it’s your responsibility to solve it.
  • Act immediately. A customer problem is priority number one. Do not write it down on your “to do’s” list.
  • If the solution is not in your hands, refer it to the corresponding area but never disown the problem. Make a close follow-up and keep the customer informed.

Step 10: Inform the Customer When the Problem is Solved

  • Contact the customer when the problem has been solved.

Step 11: Compensate the Customer or go the extra Mile

  • Offer the customer some kind of additional retribution for his bad experience. It doesn’t need to be monetary, but it has to be valuable. For example, an airline could offer an upgrade; an hotel could offer a free day of Internet access from the customer’s room, etc
  • If you are not authorized to offer compensations, do something special to surprise the customer and exceed his expectations. For example, when a customer’s brand new car broke down while driving to the airport, the service manager at the car dealer sent over an employee to pick him up and take him to the terminal, and a few days later he showed up in person at the arrival’s gate to meet the customer with his car fixed and a box of chocolates.

Step 12: Monitor Final Satisfaction

  • Contact the customer a few days later to make sure he’s satisfied with the way the problem was solved and ask him if there’s anything else the company can do for him.

Use this guideline as a reference to develop your own complaint and problem management policy, suit it to the characteristics of your business and train all your staff to implement it properly.

Although this won’t lower your rate of mistakes, it will at least ensure that when your service fails customer satisfaction won’t be affected and that the image of your company may even end up strengthened.

About the Author

Fernando Krasovitzky is the Managing Director of Leventer Group.

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