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Marketing / Customer service

Make the most of customer complaints

Customer complaints are an inevitable part of running a business. After all, it’s impossible to please everyone all of the time. Instead of looking at complaints negatively, see them as a great opportunity to improve your business.

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Customers who take the time to complain to you are really doing you a favour. These customers care enough about your business that they communicated their concerns to you personally. Does this sound crazy? Think of how many times you have been dissatisfied with service (or lack of) you have received at a store. Instead of informing a manager of your experience you probably left the store without purchasing, complained to family members and friends and maybe even vented your frustration via social networking. 

When your customers complain directly to you, you have an opportunity to minimise the spread of negative press about your business and that is an opportunity too valuable to ignore. 

Keep calm, try not to take it personally and make the process as easy as possible for both yourself and your customer. Here are my top tips for a smooth complaints management process: 

Give your customer your full attention 

Whether they have approached you in person or by telephone, stop what you are doing and give your customer your undivided attention. Making them wait will only inflame the situation. If they sent their concern by email, make answering the email a priority. If you can’t respond in detail immediately, let them know you have received their complaint and you will be back in touch soon. 

Look at it from their point of view 

As the owner you are very familiar with your business and you have a clear expectation of the service or product. Is it the same as the customer’s? Are your service terms and conditions clear? Are your product descriptions accurate? Your customer relies on you to define their expectations. If this has not been done well you cannot blame them for being disappointed. 

"If the customer feels they had a negative experience with your business, then you need to address it as such, even if it’s due to unrealistic expectations."

Want more articles like this? Check out the  customer service section.

Make amends 

If the customer feels they had a negative experience with your business, then you need to address it as such, even if it’s due to unrealistic expectations. Replace the product (may be compulsory), offer them free delivery or a discount on their next order, maybe a gift voucher. Thank them for supporting your business and for taking the time to advise you of their particular experience. Ensure their most recent experience with your business is a positive one. 

Identify the underlying cause 

Consider the following: A customer received their order late. It is easy to say, oh well these things happen – but why was it late? Did the courier company not deliver as promised? Was it on backorder? What if the underlying cause was a problem with your stock take? This type of issue is likely to impact future orders and steps should be taken to prevent the situation from happening again. Take the time to find out why; the answer may surprise you and highlight areas of potential improvement in your business. 

Let the customer know the outcome 

Your customer gave you the opportunity to address their concerns; extend them the courtesy and keep them in the loop about any improvements that you have implemented. This shows them you valued their input. 

Follow up 

At a later date let the customer know that you valued their feedback and make sure they were happy with the process. This may seem excessive but you would be surprised how many of these calls result in a sales enquiry or a recommendation to another customer. 

Hopefully you won’t have to go through this process very often. When you next have a complaint try implementing these suggestions and focus on the positive side: your customer is really helping you to build a better business. 

What’s the best experience you’ve had either receiving or making a customer complaint?

Mary Gardam

is the Principal Quality Advisor at LogiQA. She has held a number of senior quality roles but is now enjoying introducing small business to the benefits of business systems. Mary also lectures in Quality Systems at Griffith University.

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