How to handle complaints

There is no one magic formula, but here are a few useful practices I’ve learnt and employed over the years…

  • The first thing you need to make you sure you do is respond quickly and sympathetically. By responding immediately and listening you gain trust. Many customers who make complaints actually have a very poor expectation that there will indeed be a positive outcome or a response. By just replying quickly (either face to face, phone or email – and I mean quickly, within an hour or even 5 minutes of that email/letter landing in your inbox), you will start off on the right foot.
  • You are probably not in receipt of all the facts at this stage, so a simple acknowledgement and expression of surprise and regret is enough. No one likes receiving complaints. Having dealt with a few, you will know that sometimes you need a little more information in order to properly investigate. By asking specific questions in an open and non judgemental way you are showing a genuine empathy and displaying a positive attitude towards actually wanting to help and resolve.
  • Also use the initial contact to “buy time” and explain that you have to investigate the issue. This can help defuse any tension. If it is taking longer than expected, keep your customer updated.
  • Do not simply accept guilt without investigating first. There are often 2 sides to a story.
  • Be careful not to agree compensation until you are in full receipt of the facts. Most customers understand you need to investigate and that it is part of resolving the complaint in a professional manner.
  • Be human and treat each issue individually, just as you would do a customer. Use the complaint as a great chance to get a know a bit more about your customer. You will be surprised how open people are if you take the time to listen, and even a bit of sensitive humour can help lighten a situation. Of course be professional, but more importantly try to get the customer on your side.
  • Do not hide behind policies or jargon. The end game is that you resolve the complaint to the satisfaction of your customer and you do it in a way that actually turns them into a promoter of your property. This can be difficult and involve a plain, stark acknowledgement of a fault or error. Take the opportunity to fix faults and avoid a further complaint. Most customers understand things aren’t always perfect and many are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt if you have shown a real interest in the issue and a desire to help.

If there is a secret, it’s probably to work even harder at avoiding complaints, learn from each one, identify common points of failure or themes, and eradicate them.

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