How to deal with complaints about a product or service
Customer issues generally fall under either Situational (issue with a product or service) or Personal (issue with a person).
In this article, we will look at dealing with complaints about a product or service. If the complaint is about a person – read this article: “Dealing with complaints about a person”.
All businesses need customers, but the customer relationship, however, does not have to be one-sided. Customers can be rude, difficult and downright annoying but you both need each other. If you are having serious problems with a customer, you might be tempted to think about the balance to which you both contribute to the transaction, and let a lower payback go.
..think about the balance to which you both contribute to the transaction, and let a lower payback go.
The Accumulator Effect
The accumulator effect can be hugely damaging – just consider the case of a certain famous jewellers and how their business all but disappeared overnight following flippant comments by one of the directors, regarding the quality of their goods, on national television. One unhappy and/or ignored customer can literally start an exponentially growing web of bad reputation, and with so much competition out there it can be incredibly difficult to recover from.
Being prompt in identifying the real issues
If you are unhappy with a purchase, what do you do? You would probably think that you ought to complain or get your feelings across to someone because you want something done about the situation. You may also think that perhaps someone should be responsible for this error.
The key point here is that you would want someone to:
acknowledge the situation, and then hopefully
take some form of action
This is where so many people go wrong in customer care. The first step can take but a few minutes but the second step – the action – may take longer. However, what often happens is that in taking time to consider what the second step may be, who you should speak to, or what recompense is ever offered, the first step is put on hold.
The result of this is that the customer is left not knowing whether their original complaint has been received, acknowledged or ignored. It is this total lack of information that makes them even angrier. The next time they phone up – Pow! – you really are likely to feel the full force of their anger, which now may be totally out of proportion to the situation.
To prevent this outburst it is important that we rethink steps one and two again. An initial fast and efficient way of dealing with customer issues can prevent many long-term problems. When dealing with customer issues at the initial stage the most important aspects are being able to:
- hear the problem
- take effective notes
- acknowledge the feelings behind the problem
- undertake some form of action
- follow through
Hear the problem
This means actually paying close attention to what the issue is. When a customer describes a problem to you they may start in a number of places. They may start at the main issue, perhaps a malfunction of a product, or by describing how the product was bought, where it was bought from, how annoyed they feel, or even with a description of their holiday, detailing why they bought the product! What is essential is that you listen carefully and extract the details while homing in on the real issue under dispute.
Also, try to ascertain what the customer actually wants as recompense. It is helpful to know whether someone complaining about a malfunctioning camera is asking for a repair, a replacement, or recompense for the whole wedding that was ruined due to the lack of photographs.
Take effective notes
These will help you, or whoever is dealing with the problem, later on. When taking details it helps to remember Kipling’s ‘Six Honest Serving Men’:
I know six honest serving men
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who
- What is the situation?
- Where did it happen (or where is the item)?
- Why did this happen or come about?
- How did it happen?
- When did it happen?
- To whom did it happen?
Acknowledge the feelings behind the problem
The problem is not the only problem, when it comes to customer care. The other issue is how the customer is feeling about the situation. Two customers may react totally differently to a similar situation. For one, a broken product is a mere inconvenience and, for another, the end of the world.
Never be judgemental, the problem is as the customer sees it, and what they want more than anything is their feelings acknowledged. You must never admit fault, after all you have not undertaken an investigation yet, but you can acknowledge how the customer must be feeling. Saying, ‘I can understand how this situation must have distressed you’, demonstrates concern, but without ascribing blame to either side.
Undertake some form of action
This is not the final action or outcome, this is something you can do NOW to help this person. Summarise the situation as you now understand it, tell the customer that you have made notes, who they will be passed on to, and when they can expect to be contacted and the method. Immediately treat this as urgent to contain the problem as being the initial problem and not some escalated version of the situation, and take the next step as necessary, whether that be seeking help or passing it on to another relevant person.
One simple action you can do immediately is to write to the customer expressing your concern at their displeasure, and detailing how their complaint will be handled, including names and timescales.
Nothing will annoy a customer more than if promises are not held. This will add even more fire to their already burning anger and, for many, a lack of follow through will be the final straw. They will not do business with you again. Keep them informed and updated on every stage of the process, and there is a good chance you will win them back.
It is unrealistic to believe that there will not be some faults with all the products and services that we use in our lifetime, but the way in which these are handled lead either to customers turning their backs or to customer loyalty.
Following a complaint, there needs to be an investigation. This may be undertaken by yourself or a customer care specialist. An investigation is usually conducted by someone of management grade, as they may very possibly need to report the outcome to the Board. Repeated complaints often result in a change of design, system or process, and that may be a Board decision. Whatever the outcome, a list of customer complaints must always be kept and recorded so that problems can be tracked, with a view to them being eradicated.