Handling Customer Complaints the Right Way

Aug 6

Written by: John Sciacca
8/6/2014 12:19 PM  RssIcon

I mean, who wants to open a letter or an email or pick up the phone to find an upset customer on the other end? Someone looking to tell you what you or your company did wrong or why they are unhappy? We’re primarily in the fun business, and we usually hear things like, “This is so great!” or “I love what you did!” so dealing with unhappy people is not usually in the cards for us. But if you’re in business the unfortunate reality is that at some point you’re going to get a complaint, and how you handle it can not only determine the success of that interaction but possibly the success of your business overall.

A perfect example of how NOT to handle complaints can be seen in the epic social media meltdown of Amy’s Baking Company, a restaurant featured on Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares.” The owner’s took to social media to attack and defame their critics, all spiraling into a massive ball of viral disaster. 
My business partner, Allen, was raised by a father that served in the diplomatic core, and he is terrific at handling and diffusing customer complaints. Here are some tips I’ve learned from watching Allen handle complaints over the years.

Respond Quickly
Generally this is a case where the old saying “time heals all wounds” doesn’t apply, and the more time that passes, the more the person is likely to stew about it, meaning that you will have a more difficult time coming to a good resolution. Small complaints usually come in via the telephone, and the biggies usually arrive in a letter. Sometimes a complaint requires that you “gather facts”—debrief an installer, research a proposal or prior correspondence—and if that is the case, get on it immediately and respond by the end of the day.

Pick Up the Phone
Obviously, if the person is complaining via phone, you’ll be forced to deal with the issue on the spot. But if the complaint comes in via letter, email, or social media, responding via phone is usually the best approach. While a letter might be more articulate, it is also very one-sided—just you—and takes too long to arrive. Trying to address the issue via email often results in too much back-and-forth, and there is the tendency for your tone to be misconstrued in an email, which escalates or creates a problem that wasn’t there to begin with. And social media is too public a platform to address a problem. However, if the complaint came via email or social media, responding with something like, “I’m sorry to hear about this, and I’m going to call you today to discuss” is certainly appropriate and lets the person know that they have been heard.

Before doing anything, take a deep breath, step back from the stress of the complaint, and try to look at the situation from your client’s eyes. It’s easy to start building a case in your mind coming up with all the reasons why you are right and they are wrong, but that is a bad approach. Much like my blog Looking at Your Billing Process Through the Client’s Eyes, (aka “What Would John Do?") try to put yourself in their place and imagine how you would feel. Also, just because you may technically be right doesn’t mean that your customer doesn’t have a point or change the fact that they feel bad. Also, you might win the battle, but ultimately lose the war if the customer never does business with you again and then goes on to tell others about their bad experience.

Ever heard the saying, “God gave us two ears and one mouth because we’re supposed to listen twice as much as we speak”? This is one of those times. Often, complaining is about venting; the customer wants to be heard. And being heard means letting them talk. This can be difficult, especially if they are accusing your company of something and you want to explain your side of things, but this is a time to listen.

Assess the Complaint
Most of the complaints you receive are likely to be simple and straightforward, and can be quickly and easily resolved. In fact, I’ve found that many often start off conspiratorial like, “I just want you to know…” This is something that the client was mildly disappointed about and feels that you, as the boss, should know and address/handle internally. These are often minor “get off my chest” and “clear the air” types of items like, “I just wanted you to know that your installers tracked mud into my house” or, “You said your techs would be here at 9:00, and they didn’t show up until noon.” Frequently a heartfelt apology and something like, “We try to make every effort to arrive at our scheduled time and call if we are running late, and I’m sorry that didn’t happen. I’m going to find out what went wrong here and make sure we get this fixed and that it doesn’t happen again. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.”
Other times, complaints can take more than a simple, “I’m sorry, I’ll make sure to talk to my guys” to resolve. Something like, “Your work vans leaked oil in our driveway” or “Your crew scratched our cabinetry/hardwood flooring” is likely going to take some follow-up action to address.
Then there are the biggie complaints. These often come in letter form…sometimes in letters you have to sign for. These are the ones that make your insides turn all watery and ruin your day. They can be things like, “This system you sold me is garbage, and I’m not paying!” or “If you aren’t at my house to fix my problem tomorrow then I’m going to sue you!”

Find the Resolution
Think about times you’ve complained about something. In your mind, you probably had an endgame idea as to what you wanted from the complaint and what a satisfactory resolution would be. For example, when I saw Gravity in the theater, one of the audio channels was out and it drove me crazy. I really wanted to see the movie again when I wasn’t distracted by the crackling speaker. Another time I got a really poorly made burger at Wendy’s. I really wanted to try the hamburger the way it was supposed to be. In both cases, the desired outcome was clear in my mind, and was reasonable and easy for the vendor to deliver.

The resolution needs to be in equity to the problem. For example, “That movie sounded bad. I want free passes for a year” is a ridiculous and unreasonable expectation. As would be, “Your installer didn’t clean up after himself, so I’m not paying for this TV.” Often times the correct resolution to the complaint will be obvious, but if not you can ask the customer, “What can we do to make this right?” They probably have something in mind. If their suggestion is reasonable, then there you go. Other times you might find it “safer” to suggest a solution and then ask if that would be an acceptable resolution.

Frequently, complaints are resolved by a follow-up service call or by providing additional education on the system. Other times—like in the case of oil in the driveway or scratched flooring—you might have to come out of pocket to pay for a fix.

However, a resolution doesn’t always mean immediately giving in or taking money off the bill. Some people complain just for the sake of complaining or to try and get something for nothing. This University of Florida report describes different types of complainers and ways to identify them and how to respond to them.

Follow Up
When you have decided on a resolution, act on it as quickly as possible. And after you have performed whatever resolution was discussed, follow up to confirm that the problem has been satisfactorily completed and that there are no other issues.

Remember that an apology is almost always the right start and doesn’t admit guilt, liability, or error. In fact there is a whole non-apology apology entry on Wikipedia. Also, while no one likes criticism, there can often be kernels of truth in a customer complaint that might indicate something we or our company needs to work on or an area where we can improve. And at the end of the day, improving in any area ultimately makes our businesses stronger and better.

John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.

1 comment(s) so far...


Re: Handling Customer Complaints the Right Way

Sound advice, that can be used for video systems too!

By r bird on   8/6/2014 8:47 PM

Your name:
Gravatar Preview
Your email:
(Optional) Email used only to show Gravatar.
Your website:
Security Code
Enter the code shown above in the box below
Add Comment   Cancel 


<May 2015>
May 2015 (8)
April 2015 (15)
March 2015 (14)
February 2015 (11)
January 2015 (16)
December 2014 (12)
November 2014 (10)
October 2014 (19)
September 2014 (21)
August 2014 (13)
July 2014 (15)
June 2014 (12)
May 2014 (12)
April 2014 (14)
March 2014 (15)
February 2014 (14)
January 2014 (24)
December 2013 (11)
November 2013 (12)
October 2013 (15)
September 2013 (19)
August 2013 (18)
July 2013 (19)
June 2013 (12)
May 2013 (18)
April 2013 (17)
March 2013 (13)
February 2013 (16)
January 2013 (26)
December 2012 (9)
November 2012 (11)
October 2012 (16)
September 2012 (11)
August 2012 (15)
July 2012 (13)
June 2012 (8)
May 2012 (9)
April 2012 (10)
March 2012 (7)
February 2012 (11)
January 2012 (14)
December 2011 (5)
November 2011 (12)
October 2011 (8)
September 2011 (4)
August 2011 (7)
July 2011 (11)
June 2011 (12)
May 2011 (8)
April 2011 (6)
March 2011 (9)
February 2011 (10)
January 2011 (9)
December 2010 (4)
November 2010 (7)
October 2010 (4)
September 2010 (9)
August 2010 (7)
July 2010 (8)
June 2010 (12)
May 2010 (6)
April 2010 (8)
March 2010 (10)
February 2010 (11)
January 2010 (1)
December 2009 (6)
November 2009 (6)
October 2009 (11)
September 2009 (6)
August 2009 (4)
July 2009 (4)
June 2009 (5)
May 2009 (7)
April 2009 (9)
March 2009 (7)
February 2009 (9)
January 2009 (8)
December 2008 (9)
November 2008 (6)
October 2008 (7)
September 2008 (7)
August 2008 (3)
July 2008 (5)
May 2008 (1)
April 2008 (4)
March 2008 (3)
February 2008 (5)
January 2008 (2)
November 2007 (1)
October 2007 (4)
September 2007 (2)
August 2007 (3)
July 2007 (4)
June 2007 (6)
May 2007 (6)
April 2007 (4)
March 2007 (4)


Skip Navigation Links.
Skip Navigation Links.

You Need to Be Human in This Digital World
Read More»
By Heather L. Sidorowicz

With New Technology, Best is Always Better Than First
Read More»
By Todd Anthony Puma

Work It! A Running Playlist to Get You Through Your Day
Read More»
By John Sciacca

Cutting the Baby in Half: Mediating Customer Complaints
Read More»
By John Sciacca

8 Things to Look for in a Rep Firm
Read More»
By Heather L. Sidorowicz

Slide Show
Slide Show

Audio Video Systems, Plainview, NY
Slide Show

Station Earth, Fergus, Ontario, Canada
Slide Show

Audio Command Systems, Westbury, NY
Slide Show

Evolution Video and Sound, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
low price online store to buy cheap nhl 15 coins mind sharing some exp?
Read More»
The Second Class Runescape Production Technology
Read More»
See the Taping Technique to Seal your Valuables
Read More»
Learn About Responsibility of Premium Packers & Movers Firms
Read More»
The Best Xbox 360 Games Of 2010
Read More»
We present you with advice to contend in tournaments
Read More»
May one week safewow 8% off wow gold instant delivery is coming
Read More»
How Shell Out For Your World Of Warcraft Riding Skill
Read More»
Farmer100 Safe Provides Runescape Items Safely
Read More»
Where Still Have All The Good Games Completely Gone?
Read More»