Sorry (not sorry!)

We have all been on the receiving end of less than satisfactory customer service at some point in our lives, which is why it is understandably unsettling when your company is the one who has provided it. Handled correctly, complaints can bring about strong ambassadors for your business. At the opposite end of the scale, not dealing with them effectively or worse still, ignoring them, can be catastrophic.

In a perfect world, nobody would complain about poor customer service or products from your business at all, but it is inevitable that even the most highly trained, professional staff, in the most well organised and respected businesses, will have to deal with negative feedback at some point.

But all is not lost, in fact there is everything to gain. Dealing with these occurrences, is an extension of your marketing as anything customer facing, including the uglier side is all a reflection on your brand, company values and perception in the sector you service.

You may recall in February this year, that KFC published an apology for running out of chicken and having to close a store for the day in what turned out to be a stroke of PR genius. By rearranging their well-known brand to ‘FCK we’re sorry’ and following this brilliant headline with a beautifully worded apology, they probably did more to assist their brand positioning and sales, than if this unfortunate incident hadn’t happened in the first place.

On the flipside, it’s very easy to damage your brand by not responding to complaints. So how do you ensure you navigate your way through these patches when the proverbial hits the fan? We prepared our top five tips.

1. Listen.

First and foremost, people want to be heard. They need to know that they have your full attention and that you aren’t just listening to speak. Make sure you repeat back what they have said to ensure that you have understood why they are upset. People do not usually complain for the sake of complaining (although we all know that one person….).

With the advancement of technology and particularly, of social media, your complaint may not come via phone or in person, but the same rules should apply.

Remember, the person complaining is giving you the chance to fix things, so make sure you take it.

2. Say what you’re going to do.

Once you have understood what has led to the customer’s dissatisfaction, tell them what you are going to do next. This doesn’t mean you are accepting blame or taking responsibility – taking action can be as simple as saying you will speak to the right people in your company, and that you will get back to them by a certain day or time with an update.

3. Do!

This is the critical phase in handling customer complaints effectively – do what you say you’re going to do. Even if you don’t have answers, make sure you call the person back and tell them the steps you have taken to investigate the situation.

If you don’t have any news, call them and tell them you have yet to receive a concrete answer, but that you will be in touch again in the next day (or whenever is appropriate) with another update. If you do not do this, you will simply double the annoyance of the person complaining.

4. Close the loop.

Whatever the outcome, make sure you have done all you can to resolve the situation, hopefully to a positive conclusion. If the problem is something which was unable to be fixed, offer them something by way of compensation. Discounts off a future purchase are unlikely to be warmly met if the person is complaining about it in the first place however, a gift card to a large chain store, might be better received.

5. Learn.

Perhaps the complaint wasn’t your company’s fault, or the fault of an employee but either way, there is always something that can be learnt. Maybe the person’s complaint wasn’t heard properly or perhaps it was handled so well that it should be shared with the rest of the team as part of induction training?

Most dissatisfied customers will simply never buy your product or use your service again, so it is important to keep in mind that by effectively dealing with the complaint, you will end up with two wins. Firstly, you will turn your complainant, into an ambassador for your company and secondly, you could potentially plug a hole in your business which you didn’t even know existed and keep sales you didn’t know you were losing.

Whatever the outcome, receiving a customer complaint is preferable to never hearing from them again as the chances are, they will be telling anyone who will listen, why they should buy from your competitors, rather than from you.

So, when the time comes, don’t take it personally – see this experience as an opportunity to extend your brand perception and turn an unhappy customer, into your biggest fan.

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