Don’t try this at work
Yesterday I got to witness a poorly handled customer complaint … again. Here’s what happened. A customer had ordered some products and was promised to be contacted “tomorrow”. Well, “tomorrow” was four weeks ago so the customer was understandably annoyed. The sales person who had made the deal with her immediately started talking. But not to the customer. Instead the sales person asked the store manager about the order who then ran away to look for it. The customer waited in silence while the sales person did something on the computer. After a while the store manager came back and asked more about the order from the sales person. They quickly found out that no order was made to the supplier. At this point the store manager said “There’s no order so there’s no product.” The customer looked dumbfounded. Firstly: that was the very first thing that was said to the customer. Not even a “Hello” before that. Secondly: still no eye contact was made. None. I was watching this “interaction” in disbelief. After the customer asked again what could be done the sales person finally started to talk with her. She didn’t even receive a discount for the order she then made.
What needs to be accomplished
When a customer complains there are a few things you should accomplish.
1. The customer needs to feel that you care. Start with communicating that you care about their problem. Once they know you care they’ll be calmer; they know they’ll be listened to even if they don’t scream.
- Greet them politely. Your greeting will dictate the tone of the conversation.
- Find eye contact. It’s harder to be angry at someone who looks you in your eyes than to someone who avoids you.
- Ask how you can help them. They will need to trust you. Let them know that you’re there to help them. Even if the customer makes unreasonable demands they should believe you’re trying to help them achieve their desires.
2. You need to understand what the customer is really complaining about. Customers tend to complain about issues that are the easiest. In the situation I described above delivery time was easier to talk about than breach of trust (the sales person never called with additional information). If the customer’s real cause of disappointment had been addressed she would’ve been happier. Use the following ideas to notice what’s really the issue for the customer.
- What they talk about. If they go back to something over and over it’s a sign you’re not addressing the right problem.
- Ask questions. Asking for more information gives them the opportunity and “permission” to tell you what they really want. Being understood and listened to is what they want the most.
- Make different offers. You can never be absolutely certain of the priorities of the customer. Make a few different offers and see which is closest to pleasing them. Emphasize price in one, delivery time in another, and other benefits in a third.
3. A solution needs to be found. If you can’t find an acceptable solution the customer may sue you or at least tell all her friends that you can’t be trusted. There’s a temptation to find the “lowest bid” the customer is willing to accept. If the customer is a good negotiator it might be a good enough solution but usually that’s not the case. You should make the customer happy not just accept your offer.
Complaint into appraisal
Whenever I handle customer complaints my goal is to turn them into appraisals and referrals. Most of the time I get the customer to say “Thank you so much. This was really nice/good service/informative.” If the customer leaves happy after complaining I believe it leads to referrals. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard a referral in the form of, “They handle complaints and warranties really well.” At least I make referrals based on that. There’s no better time to build trust than when things go wrong. Everyone knows and understands things don’t always go smoothly. If you handle those situations well you earn a lot of trust; why wouldn’t you handle easy situations well too? Here’s what I do to build trust and get referrals:
- I let them know a solution will be found. That reinforces an expectation they already had and creates a mutual goal.
- I listen to what they say. I look for the (possibly) hidden issues that they’re upset about.
- I tell them how I feel about their primary demand. If the complaint is unreasonable I explain in very simple language why that is. At this point about half of all complaints are resolved.
- If their demands are justifiable I present a couple of options how we can handle them. I never offer just one way to resolve the matter. The customer should feel they’re in power and giving them a choice reinforces that feeling.
- I find another person to evaluate the situation even if I could make a decision then and there. I “brief” them before taking them to the customer to let them know what I offered. When another person affirms the offer’s fairness most customers believe it really is fair.
- Once a solution is found I ask again if there’s anything else they wanted to tell me. Quite often there is and it’s important to resolve those issues as well.
- I always thank them for complaining. If there was a problem with a product it’s valuable to know about it. At this point they often thank me, but sometimes the next step is required.
- I ask if I can do anything else for them. This seems to be the point when the situation at the latest changes. I assume that they want more from me; to buy something, to get more information, or something else “business as usual” stuff. When I act as if there’s nothing wrong they’ll feel that too.
- When they leave I purposefully say, “See you again” instead of “Good bye”. I want to leave the impression in their minds that they’ll come back and get good customer service again.
How do you handle complaints? Have you seen poorly handled situations or exceptionally well resolved problems? Share your experiences in the comments below.