All organisations face complaints; no operation can deliver fault-free customer service all the time, however hard they may try.
What works well for some customers will not be suitable for others; products developed in good faith will be delivered to unsuitable customers, and even the most stringently controlled business will make the occasional mistake due to human error.
The true test is in how organisations deal with these challenges and respond to complaints. Businesses that use complaints as an opportunity to improve practices and challenge existing behaviours can find that the improvements gained are so worthwhile that they actively welcome customer complaints.
Here are our top five ways to turn a complaint into a business benefit:
See it as an opportunity.
Receiving a complaint from a customer is a genuine opportunity to learn something about how your customers view your business and for you to learn what’s not working as well as it should. Be suitably appreciative of the time it’s taken your customer to raise the issue to your attention: you can be sure that, for every customer that complains, there will be a larger number who won’t bother to complain, but will just never come back. A customer complaint is your opportunity to keep a customer, not lose them to your competition.
Take it on board.
If the complaint is caused by a genuine deficiency, error or misunderstanding, take immediate steps to rectify that situation – not just for the customer who is complaining right now, but for ALL your customers. This can be a great opportunity to improve your product or business processes – even to develop new products and processes that will help your business to grow and outperform your competition.
Deal with it quickly.
Don’t drag your heels and hope that a slow response will make the complaint go away. It won’t: but it will make the complainant even more frustrated and angry – and therefore more likely to escalate their complaint, seek further redress or look to publicise their problem more widely. Speed is of the essence with customer complaints. If you can’t resolve it quickly, then at least make sure you acknowledge it speedily, and then process it in a timely and efficient manner. Make sure the complainant knows you are handling it as quickly as you can because you value their custom and their time.
Investigate and take action.
Where the nature of the complaint requires investigation and further action, make sure you keep the customer informed at every stage of this process with regular update communications. Give them deadlines that you will be working to, and ensure you keep to, or improve on, those targets. Give the customer opportunity to ask questions or provide feedback at key stages so that they feel they have an element of control over the outcome. Careful management of customer communications can turn the situation around so that, by the time the complaint reaches final resolution, the customer feels they have been treated with respect, listened to, and dealt with fairly. This can even result in a complainant becoming an advocate for your business, potentially sharing their favourable view of your organisation with friends and acquaintances in person or more widely, eg via social media.
Communicate what you’ve learnt.
An honest admission that things were not quite as they should have been, and that you have now rectified the situation will be welcomed by your customers. Honesty and transparency are highly valued in today’s media-savvy era. Anyone can find negative comments about your business on the internet, via social media, forums etc, so make sure you match – or outnumber - any such negative communications with positive ones, direct from your business. This is both good reputation management, and positive PR for your business and can help to calm the fears of customers who may have been about to leave you, as well as bring your business to the attention of potential new customers.
We hope our top five tips will be useful for your business and help you turn customer complaints into business benefits.