Even if you have put considerable thought, expertise and effort into your products and services unavoidable circumstances or human error can sometimes result in a less than satisfactory experience for your customers. A customer complaint, however, need not necessarily result in the loss of a customer. How you handle a complaint can, in fact, result in enhanced customer loyalty and increased the prospect of future business.
Most customers can see the occasional failure as having occurred despite your best efforts, they are however likely to judge your response to their complaint. As with our personal relationships, interactions between businesses and their customers are often defined by the course they take when tested.
Research into consumer behavior shows that the satisfactory resolution of a complaint can increase a customer’s loyalty, and even greatly enhance their desire to promote your business through personal recommendations to friends and family.
Here are some tips on effective complaint resolution.
• Your initial response when the complaint is received can greatly affect the customer’s perception of your company. Taking your customer’s complaint seriously and having a well thought out procedure to respond to the complaint in a timely and effective manner will always be well received by the customer. A good complaint resolution system can be greatly reassuring to your customers, even before an appropriate resolution has been achieved.
• A universally seen characteristic of market leaders and successful businesses is their willingness to see a complaint as an opportunity. Even the best minds and the best organizations will be unable to pre-empt all the possible issues that can occur. Welcome your customer’s complaint as an opportunity for course correction. It might even be a chance to nip a far greater future problem in the bud. If one customer has experienced a problem it’s possible that the problem is something that can assume larger proportions in the future.
• Being open to your customer’s complaint will result in an inclusive, caring and helpful approach. No matter how much effort has been put into your products and services, things can go wrong, accepting this simple fact will keep you from being pointlessly argumentative. Identifying with your customer’s experience is the most honest thing to do and will also result in your business taking it’s customers into account when formulating plans and procedures.
• It’s inevitable that sometimes you may not agree with your customer’s assessment of the situation. At times like these use language that isn’t dismissive of the customer’s concerns. If you agree with your customer, make sure you acknowledge it with a direct apology, for example, “I’m sorry for your inconvenience, we’ll address this issue for you as a priority”. If you disagree with your customers be sure to acknowledge that you have considered their point of view, for example, “I can see that your expectations have not been met, allow me to explain”.
• A well-organized complaint resolution process must include asking the right questions and seeking necessary clarifications, as well as a system to record the responses with accuracy. Well documented complaints also make you aware of any trends in the complaints you are receiving. This may be crucial in spotting a systemic issue that could be affecting your company’s ability to satisfy your customers.
• A sincere apology can be extremely effective. Even in situations that aren’t your fault, it can often mean a lot to your customers that you empathize with their experience.
• It can be useful to ask for your customer’s suggestions for improving your performance, during a complaint resolution process. It can be a greatly reassuring experience for your customers and conveys your honest intent to address their issue.
• It is better to exceed expectations than fall short of promises. Be sure that you don’t make unrealistic promises to your customers when reassuring them during the resolution of a complaint.
• Realize that many customers that have had a negative experience with your company will probably not even make the effort to raise a complaint. Acknowledge the customer’s effort in bringing things to your attention, it has given you a chance to get some feedback and possibly address an unforeseen problem. It’s not a bad idea to respond to a customer’s complaint with a letter acknowledging their initial complaint as well as a later communication detailing the actions that have resulted from their complaint.
Even if you disagree with the points your customer is making, take the time to create a considered, honest and non-confrontational response. Often the simple act of acknowledgment and explanation can retain a customer. It’s also a great idea to acknowledge your customer’s inconvenience by extending a token or your appreciation, such as a gift voucher or a free service.