Customer complaints are an unavoidable challenge that any business inevitably face sooner or later. Your team will be working hard to maintain a high standard of business in order to prevent customer discontent, however the reality of human error renders total satisfaction amongst every customer impossible. Once in a while, a slip-up will occur, and a customer will make sure that any inconvenience the mistake caused them is known to your organisation. The complaint could be in the form of a disgruntled phone call, a strongly worded email, a targeted social media post or even an in-person confrontation.
The folly of most companies however, is in immediately disregarding these complaining customers as lost business. By sending complaining customers away with a partial refund or some other form of compensation and thinking no further about them, many companies are missing out on a chance to improve precarious business relationships, and in doing so, strengthening their reputation.
In fact, statistics show that those who complain when dissatisfied with customer treatment are more likely to want to continue a business relationship with your organisation than those who do not complain.
“A customer complaint highlights a problem, whether that’s a problem with your product, employees or internal processes, and by hearing these problems directly from your customers, you can investigate and improve to prevent further complaints in the future.”[i] (SuperOffice).
Complaints represent a customer’s disappointment in the standard of your company, which has fallen below their expectation. It is the job of your customer service staff to reinstate this expectation at its prior high level. To do this, insight6 has come up with an effective strategy that will help you to negotiate angry customers into loyal patrons.
Clean up the first response
Before responding to an irate customer, consider their position. Nobody contacts the complaints department of a business because they want to. The reason for the call is likely to be because the caller is upset due to what they consider to be sub-par treatment from your company. Whether or not this upset is justified is, at the first point of contact, irrelevant. Your position when hearing out the complaint should come from one of total un-bias; good customer service employees are willing to listen and accept the customer’s story at face value instead of immediately attempting to negate it.
As Mark Goulston says in his book Talking To Crazy: ‘leaning in to crazy [a term he uses to describe incomprehensible hostile behaviour] can empower you to break free from communication strategies that [typically] fail and break through’[ii]. What Goulston means by this is that even if the person you are speaking with is being belligerent, rude or irrational, it is important not to allow your own instinctive anger to form a response. Instead, by attempting to empathise with the customer, even in an absurd context, you can diffuse their anger, and get to a place where you can negotiate. Through ‘leaning in’ to their perspective, you can convey to complaining customers that you have acknowledged and understood their frustration, which is what they want.
Something to keep in mind is that your customer is already aggrieved before reaching out to complain, and then on top of this, they are forced to plough through whatever formal complaints process your company has in place. Customer complaints processes can often be frustrating and unpleasant, as no doubt you have probably experienced at some point. Hostile responses from front of house staff are a shortcut towards the notorious “I wish to speak to the manager” request. This is an easily avoided conversation, combated by implementing proper training for your customer service staff.
Another fault that many companies fall into is failing to impress authority through tone and language during the initial report of a customer complaint. The last thing customers want is to feel in this situation is that their time is being wasted by speaking with someone that is not taking them seriously. By utilising simple, confident phrases such as: “I have the expertise to help you with your issue,” or “let’s go through what next steps we can take to solve this”, your staff can provide immediate assurance that they are in control, and are able to handle the complaint without needing to pass the phone around to find someone ‘in charge’.
Get the apology right
According to Forum Corporation’s research, 70% of customers leave a business because they feel the company doesn’t care about them. If a customer complains, it is because they feel they have been wronged by your organisation, and are seeking amends. The first step towards righting any wrong is an apology. Unfortunately, a large percentage of corporations and brands do not understand how to make a sincere apology, leaving customers disinclined to believe they are genuinely sorry.
To simplify this grey area, here is a formula for a proper apology that can be taught to your customer service team as a guideline when speaking with disgruntled clients:
- Express remorse for the specific problems the error has caused.
- Admit the company is at fault, and do not try to excuse the mistake.
- Offer to make it right and assure them it will not be repeated.
This formula is based on an article written by psychologist Christine Carter called The Three Parts of an Effective Apology. This article breaks down the concept of an apology into three components, based on what the apology intends to achieve. Apologies are not a chance to list excuses for behaviour that caused hurt, they are a demonstration of remorse for this behaviour. If the actions of your company somehow upset a customer, the apology for this should be reassuring enough that the upset party knows your company is totally accepting of the error, and fully intend to make up for it.
What does the customer want from the complaint?
Customers complain for a few different reasons: to express their dissatisfaction, to release their frustration, and to receive some compensation for their struggle. An apology will go a long way, but to ensure a customer does not move their business elsewhere, compensation can be a necessary part of smoothing over the issue.
An effective method of letting a customer feel they have been appropriately compensated is to personalise their reward to them. Instead of a generic partial refund, or company-branded merchandise, find the root of their initial complaint and tailor the offer around it. For example, if a customer purchased some legal advice on a house purchase and ended up dissatisfied, their compensation could be a discount on future mortgage advisement.
Regardless of the size of your business, your customers want to feel that they are your priority, that you value their specific custom. By paying attention to the precise needs of each individual client, you are more likely to build a loyal base of consumers, eager to recommend you to their family and friends.
At insight6, our Customer Experience Directors (CXD’s) have found time and again that one of the most significant positive changes a business can make to turn enquiries into confirmed clients is to follow-up. The follow-up is a simple and effective tool, comprising of a simple phone call or email one to three days after a client conversation. In this follow-up call or email, the client’s name should be used, details of their enquiry should be peppered in, and a plan should be established to secure further business.
After a complaint has been recorded, the follow-up is crucial. Whilst following the steps above will do wonders to placate an irate customer, the final step that will eradicate any further concerns about the competence of your company, is this follow-up call. Checking in with a client after their report of a problem is a signal that you still care about their satisfaction in regards to the organisation, even after the initial complaint has been resolved. This will make a customer feel valuable to the business, and at last the matter can be left alone.
When discussing how to deal with angry customers, remember to impress upon your customer service team that complaints should not be viewed as a wholly negative response. In a survey conducted by Customer Strategies Analyst Esteban Kolsky, only 1 in 25 customers complain to the company as opposed to sharing their grievances online. Once your customers begin typing their negative responses into the many review sites across the internet, it is far more difficult to erase their detrimental impact from your company’s reputation.
Direct complaints can be handled out of the public eye with the correct know-how. Once your staff have been trained in mediation strategies such as the ones we have exampled in this article, insight6 can guarantee you will see a significant decrease in loss of business from complaining customers.