Making A Virtue Of Customer Complaints

Peninsula Team

June 04 2010

As a business owner yourself, why not take a moment to think about your own experiences as a customer and the experience you offer to your customers when things don’t go well for them. Are you doing all you can? And have you noticed how some companies make it almost impossible for you to complain at poor service or a disappointing product? Complicated procedures, never-ending form filling, disinterested customer service staff or an absolute blindness to their own failings can lead to a very unhappy customer experience. So why does it matter? Firstly, and most obviously, you lose repeat business. And the person who is unhappy will tell their friends. Everyone knows that you’re far more likely to voice your unhappiness at bad service than you are to praise a good experience - we’ve all got our restaurant or shopping nightmares that we trot out on occasion. However, a far more telling piece of research is that dissatisfied customers who have their issues addressed by a company are ten times more loyal to the brand thereafter than those customers who were satisfied in the very first place. I’m not suggesting you deliberately treat your customers badly and then work to regain their confidence and their brand loyalty. That would be a very risky strategy! But the point is that if you can win back those customers that have had been disappointed they tend to be far more loyal and stickable than even the happy customers. So every opportunity has the potential to be not only redeemed but even profitable in the longer term. Indeed customer complaints offer the opportunity to improve your business. No matter how good your company is, complaints are inevitable. It just is the way it is because people are people, employees are employees, suppliers are suppliers and (dare I say it) management are management. And in an online world, the opportunity to rate a transaction, comment on an experience and give feedback whilst the injustice is still raging is far more accessible to the everyday consumer than it was five years ago. So rather than shying away from complaints, why not try to see them as an opportunity to diagnose potential issues in the business and work out solutions for both the individual with a grievance and for your business offering as a whole as you go forward. How, in practice, do you do that? Here are some key practical tips:- Train your employees and incentivise them to provide good service. Develop a “code of conduct” – a set of rules that outline what the customer can expect from your company, to ensure the customer has a good experience and employees know what they should be achieving. Empower your employees to make decisions independently (within reason) – we all know how frustrating it is when an employee says “I have to speak to my manager” about even straightforward issues. Be open to the customer, listen and ask questions – make them feel heard. Be extremely responsive to complaints – speed is of the essence, otherwise one bad experience could be pasted across Google within hours. If it’s a serious complaint or one that escalates, bring in someone extremely senior to talk to the customer and make them feel valued. Don’t argue with the customer or behave defensively – thank them for raising the issue and bringing it to your attention. Compensate where necessary if it can’t be resolved through replacement or negotiation. And learn from it – take note of it, feed it back to staff, and change your procedures if necessary to stop it from happening again. Deborah Done, the author of our Big Ideas, is founder and director of Nab Communications, a freelance public relations agency which provides sensible and value for money PR advice to regional and national businesses.  

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