Working on those warm fuzzies: how to handle a complaint

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We’ve all complained at some point in our lives. How was your complaint handled? Well? Were you satisfied? Or was it handled badly? Were you left feeling frustrated and angry? If, according to Bill Gates, “your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning”, then how are you handling complaints in your business?

Despite knowing that customers are essential to business, some companies still fail to realise the importance of handling complaints well. So, how easy is it to transform an unhappy customer into your greatest advocate?

Express regret

Most people don’t want to be disappointed or angry and complaining is often a last resort. So, your first job is to take the sting out of the experience. Whatever the reason for the complaint, begin by apologizing. This simple action will, most of the time, turn an angry confrontation into a fair and reasonable discussion.

Highlight a desire to resolve

Next, highlight your desire to improve the situation. Again, this helps customers see clearly that you are on their side and that this won’t be a battle. Often, after these two initial stages, emotions will be under control and your customers will be keen to have a fair and objective discussion.

Explore and understand

This next stage is critical but sensitive. Frame questions carefully. Begin by reinforcing your desire to obtain a great outcome for your unhappy customer and to do so you need to understand the situation properly. Ask a series of open questions to guide the process. Ask what happened, when it happened, and why your customer thinks that problems arose.

Establish what’s fair

Having done this you’ll be in a good position to make a judgement. If customers are unhappy because they didn’t understand the whole situation, you’ll need to fill in the missing information in as neutral a way as possible. If the customer has been badly treated, you just need to apologise unreservedly and make things right.

Be generous

Either way, whether customers have cause for complaint or not, be generous. Remember at all times that your objective is to get them to recommend you to one person rather than criticise you to ten. Losing ten potential customers is an expensive moral victory.

Some customers are unreasonable and unfair. Most, though, are decent people who have simply been let down or disappointed. Make the effort to analyse what happened and consider why. Is this an alert that the services or products you provide are starting to drop in quality? Is this the start of a trend because another supplier is offering better products and services at a better price?

Whatever your findings are, they will help you to run a successful growing and profitable business and getting back those warm fuzzies will be worth the extra effort.

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