Customer complaints are like medicine

Customer complaints are just like the worst medicine that we were forced to swallow as children. Nobody likes it but it can make you a lot better. (However, I still reserve judgment on cod liver oil.) Actually complaints are more like preventative medicine because they provide advanced warnings about problems.

Every business, every employer and every employee depends on having satisfied customers. Whatever your business, do everything you can to satisfy your customer. Whenever you are faced with an upset customer do not think of it as a problem, think of it rather as an opportunity to learn something new. Complaints are gifts to companies and they offer a direct feedback as to what is happening with a product or service.

Statistics do vary, but for every customer who makes a complaint, you are likely to have between 20 and 30 dissatisfied customers who say absolutely nothing. An average business never hears from 96 per cent of its unhappy customers. Of course they say nothing to you but will fuel the grapevine by telling others. In fact customers are likely to tell 8 to 10 other people when they are dissatisfied and only 3 to 4 if they are satisfied. According to TARP (Technical Assistance Research Project) who research customer service, customers who complain and are subsequently satisfied are 8 per cent more loyal than if they had no problem at all.

Organisations should be encouraging complaints provided they handle them correctly:

Listen to the complaint. Simply giving a customer your time and attention without interruption can go a long way to solving the issue at the beginning.

Thank the customer for bringing the issue to your attention. Saying thank you is one of the powerful phrases in any language. Saying thank you at the beginning is much better than at the end when it may sound scripted.

Empathise with the customers difficulties. This does not mean apportioning blame. Use comments such as I know how frustrating these delays can be, or you must have been upset to find such a fault in the product.

Accept responsibility on behalf of the company. Never blame the customer even though it may result from customer mistakes or incorrect expectations

Explain what action will be taken. People want to know what will happen next. If frontline staff do not know how to solve the problem they should assure customers that the relevant managerif possible give the namewill be contacting them.

Follow through and always meet your commitments. Do not promise anything you cannot deliver. Speed is also important in this context. People usually want their complaints dealt with appropriately and quickly.

Log your complaints and review them regularly. If you find you are getting a lot of complaints about one particular product or service area it will alert you to more strategic action that may be required.

An organisation that never has any complaints is probably a poor one. No one bothers to complain they just go elsewhere.

If we shift from being defensive to opportunist, complaints can be our best friend.

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