Tips for Responding to Customer Complaints

Tom Jennings, VP of Member Services, WFCA


Whether we like it or not, all of our customers will not always be pleased. I have found that the first minute of conversation regarding the customer’s concerns will set the tone for the entire process. When you are in a position of dealing with a disappointed customer, these actions can be taken to maintain their loyalty.

Don’t Interrupt: The first thing you need to remember is to let the customer talk. Always let the customer say whatever is on her mind. If you try to interject too early, she will just get defensive. We all need to blow a little steam from time to time. It is best to let her get it out of her system.

Be Empathetic: It is not advisable to say “I understand.” If you have not experienced something first hand, then you will not understand and the customer will resent you saying that you do. It is better to say, “I don’t blame you for being disappointed. If something similar happened to me, I would be disappointed as well.” This statement lets the customer know you are empathetic to her concerns. The first thing she needs to be assured of is that you are both “on the same side of the fence” and that this will not be a combative process.

Don’t Point Fingers: While the temptation to assign fault to others is often great, I have never found that it serves any meaningful purpose. When the customer purchased from your firm, she placed her trust in the entire organization. To demean any member of your team only lessens the value of the entire organization in the customer’s viewpoint. All good coaches consistently state, “We win as a team and we lose as a team.” It is better to simply apologize and move on.

Don’t Offer Excuses: The reason you don’t offer excuses is simple – no one wants to hear them! Giving customers valid reasons why something did, or didn’t, happen is quite acceptable. Just be careful you don’t fall into the “too far, too hard, too long, too late, etc.” trap. It won’t place you in a good light.

Offer a Plan of Action: Make sure the customer understands, and agrees with, the course of action you are proposing. None of us like to feel as if we are being left in limbo. This is especially true of a customer whose confidence in you is now somewhat tenuous. This is a time to talk specifics, not generalities.

Thank the Customer for Speaking Up: While this may seem silly to some, I believe it is an imperative step to take. Remember that the majority of people won’t tell you directly that they are disappointed. They will simply tell everyone they know and then not come back. However, if you properly resolve their concern, the likelihood of their return is high. Say something to the effect of: “While no one ever likes to hear bad news, I really appreciate you making me aware of your concerns. Our goal is to get better every day. The only way we can accomplish this is with your feedback. I appreciate the chance to get this problem rectified and having the opportunity to serve you again in the future.”

Do Something Unexpected: Depending upon the severity of the problem, I would suggest showing some token of gratitude for the customer’s patience with your firm. I sometimes send a bouquet of flowers with the message, “When we goof, it’s a beauty!” or a gift card to a restaurant saying, “Sorry we caused a stressful evening at your house. Please enjoy a relaxing one on us!” The reaction is almost always positive. Remember, the cost of doing something now is far cheaper than the cost of finding a new customer in the future.

Follow Up: Once the agreed-upon plan of action has been executed, always follow up personally to verify that the customers’ expectations have been met. This is imperative. It is also too important to presume it was done by another staff member. This is your customer, your referral source and a part of your future success. Never forget it!

When each of us makes a purchase, we do not realistically expect everything to go perfectly at all times. Problems occur in all walks of life. Rational people are usually only disappointed when a problem occurs. They can, however, become irate if they feel they are not being properly respected and dealt with. New customers cost more to attract than keeping existing ones. Do everything in you power to make sure none have a reason to go away mad!

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