Dealing with complaints

  • By John Sharkey
  • 18/09/2012

We continue our blogs on the subject of service excellence by looking at how to deal with complaints...

Many of us grow up with the idea that mistakes are bad, linking our self-esteem with continued success. We become afraid of making mistakes. So in order to achieve success, we tend to steer clear of areas that may lie outside the apparent realm of our natural talent. In this perverse equation, the secret of success becomes avoiding failure, leaving much of our potential untapped.

'In order to reach our full potential to learn, we must accept and then transform anxiety and fear, relentlessly seeking accurate information on our performance. What used to be perceived as criticism now becomes a gift for constructive growth.' (Michael Gelb and Tony Buzan)

Only by recording and analysing our mistakes, can we identify opportunities for improvement to our systems and methods. However, rather than waiting for a complaint from a client to identify an area for improvement, we should be constantly looking at the firm's business processes to see where we can become more efficient and effective.

Deal with complaints positively

The word 'complaint' tends to have very negative connotations. However, if handled effectively and immediately they can become a positive occurrence because:

  • they are a valuable source of feedback;
  • they identify weaknesses and flaws in our systems;
  • they give us a second chance to prove how good we are;
  • it means clients are talking to us rather than taking their business elsewhere;
  • 90% of people who complain actually become more loyal if the complaint is handled effectively.

Resolving the complaint

Always respond instantly at the first indication of a complaint.

  • Actively listen
    • ask for a full description of the complaint and do not interrupt.
  • Apologise
    • show understanding / empathy for their situation.
    • if the criticism is fair, agree with it as this will help to defuse the situation.
  • Avoid confrontation
    • if the criticism appears unfair do not argue or blame someone else;
    • do not fall into the trap of trying to explain away the problem; concentrate on providing an acceptable solution.
  • Ask questions
    • check your understanding of any aspect of the complaint about which you are not completely sure.
  • Acknowledge the problem
    • summarise the problem in your own words, so as to demonstrate that you have both listened and understood.
  • Appreciate their situation
    • recognise and acknowledge their feelings and emphasise your desire to put things right.
  • Alternatives
    • involve the client in joint problem-solving and generate as many alternative solutions to the problem as possible
  • Agreement
    • agree on the solution that is most acceptable to the client.
  • Action
    • set a specific timescale to report back to the client and act fast.
  • Aftercare
    • follow up action with a letter or telephone call, and a final apology where appropriate.

So it is important to harness the complaints you may get to your advantage and have a good policy of dealing with them. It is also wise to understand that mistakes do happen and are a part of the experience of life and your employees should learn by them rather than be put off by them e.g. bringing in a new system may have initial problems that may affect clients but have a long term benefit for them.

We shall explore turning clients into advocates in our next blog.

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