One of my least favorite business chores used to be dealing with customer complaints. Let's face it: Customers who are frustrated and disappointed are no fun. And no matter how careful and how thorough you are, from time to time we all make mistakes. We fail to provide our highest level of customer service and our clients don't get what we've promised.
I've really worked on my attitude toward disappointed customers, though. And while I can't claim that I actually look forward to their phone calls or emails, I have managed to implement a strategy for managing complaints in a much more positive, productive way. Here's how I do it:
1. Take ownership.
When a client calls me to complain, that means one of two things: that I've managed their business personally or that they're seriously upset.
Either way, my strategy is the same. I don't pass the buck. I commit to handling the problem myself. If you hand off an already irate client, you run the risk of inflaming the situation.
2. Apologize to your customer.
Sometimes customers are upset for reasons that are completely out of your control. Sometimes the problem may even be the customer's fault. But unless the customer is behaving irrationally, my first step is to apologize. Whether the problem was your company's fault or not, the customer wants to hear two things—the first is an apology.
3. Commit to making it right.
The next thing an upset customer may want to hear is that you'll fix the problem.
Even if I'm not sure what the remedy will be, I verbally make it clear to the customer that I take their problem seriously, and that I will work hard to resolve it.
4. Ask your customer what they want to provide better customer service.
Sometimes, the solution to your problem is simple. The customer's upset, they tell you exactly what they want you to do and you do what they ask.
Now I know resolution is frequently not that simple, but try asking the client what would make them happy. You may find their resolution is simpler than you think.
5. Develop and explain your plan to your customer.
For more complex problems (like ones that require research or can't be resolved on the spot), consider telling the customer exactly what you need to do and then do it.
Consider being as specific as you can about how and when you'll get back in touch with them, and explain what you're planning to do. Whether you need to confer with your staff or you need to determine what's possible, letting your customers know what they can expect while you're working to resolve their problem keeps them from feeling ignored.
6. Follow through.
If you promise to call your customer back within 24 hours, then do it—even if you haven't completely resolved the problem. Avoid making promises you can't keep. Failing to follow through can bring you right back to square one.
Now these last two steps have become the most important for me as I've learned to transform customer experiences from bad to good.
7. Fix the root problem with your customer service.
Whether it's a delivery service that's consistently late or it's an employee that needs to be retrained, I determine what caused my customer's problem and find a way to fix it.
This step matters so much because it's a step toward refining and improving your quality overall, which can help reduce customer complaints in the future. Actively drilling down, finding and resolving problems in your company can help make you better overall.
8. Follow up to improve your customer service.
This past step is what I think has really enabled me to set myself apart from everyone else in my industries. While most business owners feel relief after they've dealt with a disgruntled customer and the owners hope they never see that client again, I seek them out.
So let's say I retrained an employee that offered substandard service. Once I've fixed the root cause of the problem, I reach out to my the customer who initially complained, and I let them know that not only did I resolve their problem the day we spoke, but I've taken extra steps to ensure it will never happen again.
By following these steps, I've not just fixed a problem for a client, but I've also made my company better. I've also demonstrated to my customer that I'm a rockstar problem solver. I've had customers who'd been on the verge of taking their business elsewhere who have ended up being my most ardent supporters—the kind of customer that brings me new business.
While you may never actually enjoy hearing complaints about how your company has dropped the ball, if you're determined to resolve problems, you may end up in better shape than you were.
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