99 percent of the time customers are reasonable. Complaints can be used to make your business stronger and operate better in the long run. Your customers can be your best sources to identify weaknesses in your business. I have found that 99 percent of all customers are reasonable and only one percent will never be happy, no matter how you respond. It is imperative that you make active listening a practice. Do not start thinking of your response until you’ve heard and processed internally the issue the customer is presenting. Then you should acknowledge that the customer’s complaint with empathy. For example, “I understand how you may feel” followed by “I will take the necessary steps to remedy the issue.” The 99 percent will calm down if they feel you are listening to them and willing to work with them. You only have one chance at a first impression so make active listening a habit.
Use lemons to make lemonade. Customer complaints present an opportunity to create a customer for life and it also gives you a chance to see your business from an objective point of view. This will help you identify issues you have overlooked. You may not
notice if it was a process issue or an attitude issue. It’s like proof-reading your own paper—you have been consumed in it and looking at it for so long that errors go unnoticed. Getting a second pair of eyes to proof your paper always reveals errors that you are surprised you overlooked. If it’s a process issue then you now have the opportunity to change it. If it’s an employee attitude issue then you need to terminate the employee if it becomes a pattern. I understand that employees, like me, make mistakes. What I have never been able to accept is employees having a bad attitude towards our customers. Don’t forget to document all issues and make a checklist so you can check each complaint off as you address them. Documentation also allows for you to go back and review the issue quarterly.
Expedience is key. If you receive an email compliant make sure that it is answered within ten or fifteen minutes if not sooner. You are now dealing with a new generation of customers that have grown up with the Internet and cell phones and as a result are accustomed to their needs being met in real time. Have a protocol of redundancy in place so if an email comes through and one employee misses it, someone else is checking as well and able to respond quickly. With so many online options these days, within minutes a customer may have already called your competitor if you take too long to respond to their needs.
Remember to lead by example. Colin Powell once said that “if a leader doesn’t convey passion and intensity within the organization then they’ll start to fall down and get depressed.” Train your employees with action. Be the first responder to the complaint and have your employees take notes on how you handle the issue. Smiles can defuse tension more than words. A genuine unforced smile communicates to the customer that you are interested in their needs and understand that they are the reason you are in business.
Peter Barry Consulting
Consulting services and advice for businesses that want to grow.