Responding to Customer Complaints

No matter how fantastic your product is or how high you set your customer service goals, situations will arise in which a customer is not completely satisfied with their experience.

If you have a good policy for responding to customer complaints, your efforts can pay off in droves. The cost of replacing an item or offering a refund is often recouped by the loyalty you receive in return when you go above and beyond the call of duty to fix the situation.

Meanwhile, research has shown customers who have had a complaint satisfactorily resolved are extremely likely to recommend a business to others - a bit of free advertising and a potential bonus to be recorded by your customer management software.

Here are some tips for where to begin when a customer brings a complaint to your attention:

Take complaints seriously

Respond to a customer complaint promptly and with due attention to convey the message that you take these issues seriously. Establish a standard system for logging and handling complaints to ensure that all employees are using a similar approach. You can use your customer management software as part of this system.

Use it as a learning opportunity

Ask some of the most successful business owners how they feel about complaints and you may be surprised to hear them say, "Great!" Oftentimes, negative feedback provides the perfect opportunity for you to learn where improvements can be made. Chances are if one person has encountered a problem, another may be feeling the same thing but has just not spoken up.

Remain calm

Avoid engaging in an argument with a customer who has brought an issue to your attention. Instead, take time to reflect on the matter and adopt a helpful and objective approach.

Don't make excuses

Concentrate on offering next steps and potential solutions to the customer's problem, rather than trying to explain why something went wrong in the first place.

Identify with the customer's point of view

Step out of your business-owner shoes and imagine yourself in the customer's place. How would you feel? Would you be upset? Be honest with yourself in your assessment and let these feelings inform your response.

Acknowledge their concerns

Even if you don't agree with what a customer is saying, it is important to demonstrate you have listened to their point of view and can understand where they are coming from. Your language may vary based on your assessment of the situation, ranging from "Sorry, we completely missed the mark" if your business is clearly in the wrong to "I see that we did not fulfill your expectations" if the customer's complaint is unwarranted.

Ask questions

Gather as much information about the situation as possible by asking questions and requesting clarification if needed. Take notes to make sure you are capturing all aspects of the issue in detail.

Keep a record

Use your customer management software to keep track of customer complaints and identify potential areas for improvement. For example, if 10 people in the past month have complained that their order arrived later than promised, you may want to focus more resources in this direction or re-evaluate your policy. Documenting complaints with customer management software is also important if the same customer has a problem in the future.

Offer an apology

You may be surprised by how much good it can do to simply offer an apology to a dissatisfied customer. Even if the situation is not your fault, simply hearing words such as "I'm sorry you have had this experience" can go a long way towards repairing a customer relationship.

Solicit suggestions for next steps

If you are not sure how to respond to a customer's complaint, you may want to turn the question back around on them and solicit suggestions for a next step. If you don't like their answer, you are under no obligation to honor their request.

Be realistic with your promises

If you can't do something, don't promise that you will. Only commit to offering realistic solutions to the customer's problem.

Thank the customer

Because so few dissatisfied customers actually take the time and effort to let a business know how they feel, it is important to thank them for doing so. If you want to go one step further, you could follow up with a letter down the line that explains how their feedback has helped you improve your operations. Include a coupon or gift certificate as a token of your appreciation.

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