How do you actually handle customer complaints? Most people don’t do this well, even though it comes back to doing what you know to do.
Treat others how you want to be treated. The Golden Rule
Simple right? Then why do most people allow their views and attitudes to get in the way of doing so when it comes to handling customer complaints.
For example, I recently went to dinner with my extended family. It’s a well-known restaurant, particularly for their gluten free/vegan menu and it is one I am very loyal to. My family goes there for every special occasion we celebrate.
Prior to the COVID lockdown period, one whole side of their menu was gluten free but on this visit, the gluten free menu option was so small you could hardly find it on the menu and there certainly wasn’t a lot of variety to choose from. Which was both surprising and disappointing as in the past they had really educated their customers that their gluten free menu was one of the aspects that this particular restaurant did very, very well.
All of a sudden the standard of what we thought we could expect from this restaurant was gone, no longer were they delivering on what they had promised.
To add to our dismay, when the meal was delivered, it clearly wasn’t gluten free; it included other ingredients we knew contained gluten.
When the supervisor came to our table to discuss our concern, after listening to our complaint she responded with, “It’s not my fault you are so fussy”.
Clearly the conversation went downhill from there.
I said, “well hold on, this is about doing what you said you were going to do. We made a clear request for a gluten free meal and this hasn’t been done.”
She did then offer to replace the meal and they did so quickly and the second meal delivered was gluten free, but our complaint was not dealt with, with any generosity
Even when the supervisor told us she had decided to give our money back for the meal she said, “we have decided to give you your money back.”
There was no “I am so sorry, I understand how frustrating this must be for you.”
There was no best practice in how she handled the customer complaint nor did she take the time to get into our world.
Being in the world of your customer is like really putting yourself in their shoes and feeling what it would be like for someone who has to constantly communicate specific requirements and to be made to feel like, they are being the difficult one or the bad guy.
I’m sure there many of you who can relate.
It was in fact the giving our money back part of the conversation that was the final straw. We all felt like saying, stick your money!
It all came down to the way the supervisor dealt with the conversation and how she handled our customer complaint.
The end result of this experience is that now, none of my family want to go back and we have been going to this particular restaurant for years!
To be clear, my families decision is not based on the mistake that was made, we all make mistakes at times, it is all based on how our complaint was dealt with, and how the supervisor made us feel.
Some people may say, “you got your money back so you should be happy.”
It’s important to note here that we didn’t ask for our money back, had the supervisor dealt with our complaint with generosity, and treated us with kindness and respect, the outcome would have been very different.
In fact, I am so upset that she has given us no other choice other than to make the call and not go back again, I love that restaurant but ……
It was all about the tonality, the facial expressions, the underlying feeling of what a pain in the arse we were, WE ALL FELT IT and it comes back to the saying;
They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
Carl W. Buehner
If someone says something that has you feel great, but you just can’t remember exactly what it was they said, it becomes about the feeling you are left with; the feeling of being acknowledged.
I ended up calling and talking to the manager of the restaurant and she was great, she listened, she was really apologetic but by that time it was too late.
So my questions are:
- What do you do when handling a customer complaint?
- What service standard do you have in place?
- Do you train your team?
Developing service standards within your business whether face to face, email or via an online platform messaging is critical to ensure customer loyalty and repeat business.
It is important to consider how people feel when you engage them in every part of their journey with you; it starts with a positive first impression; listening and acknowledging how they feel.
Listen, don’t interrupt and respond by paraphrasing their feelings first.
The reason why customer complaints happen is often because we make promises that we don’t fulfil on. If you are promising to do something, you have got to do it!
Handling Customer Complaints – Face to Face Service Standards
Posture, facial expressions, tonality, listening, paraphrasing the feeling, steps to work with them to resolve the problem, genuine gratitude and of course an APOLOGY.
Never Ever Justify; DO NOT JUSTIFY AT ANY TIME DURING THE INTERACTION
Handling Customer Complaints – Written Service Standards
A personal greeting, steps to work with them to resolve the problem, genuine gratitude and of course an APOLOGY.
Never Ever Justify; DO NOT JUSTIFY AT ANY TIME DURING THE INTERACTION
Being In The World Of Your Customer
To clarify, below I have shared an example of an experience I had which clearly outlines the level to which a business can engage you by being in the world of the customer and taking actions above and beyond what is expected by the customer.
I travelled to the US to deliver a course and had two connecting flights in Sydney and Hawaii before reaching the final destination in Seattle. While I checked in, the airline staff member discovered I did not have a visa for entry to the US. I had recently received a new passport and completely forgot to apply for one.
This was not the airline’s fault, it was mine. Rather than dismissing me, the staff member offered to hold my bag while I moved off the queue to apply for the visa. Knowing the visa can take up to 72 hours to approve and with courses to run in Seattle, it was quite worrying as I am sure you can imagine.
The staff member then booked and held a flight for me for the next day in anticipation for the visa approval to come through, he then asked me to go and relax in the lounge and would keep checking for the approval.
I flew to Sydney and by the time I had landed, the visa had been approved. What a relief.
They did not have to do any of this. I was at fault and yet the staff member got into the world of me and delivered a 10 out of 10 experience.
And, The Exact Opposite
I then continued to Hawaii and connected to Seattle on a separate airline. It was one of those flights where you sit on the plane for 2 hours. There was a problem with baggage and we received minimal updates.
Upon arrival in Seattle, we were informed that some of the bags did not arrive with our flight and about 50 people were affected. We would only know once the baggage carousel had delivered all of the bags.
When it did, I discovered I was 1 of 50.
I waited in a long line to report my missing bag and moved on to the hotel. For the next day, I kept checking back and forth between Hawaii and Seattle on the progress.
I was consistently having to do the work, with no apology. They just said things like “well its on its way.” It didn’t matter how many times I asked, when will it get here? They gave me no definite answer and nothing that they suggested in respect to when my baggage may arrive was accurate. The impact on me was that I was waking at 3am in the morning expecting to receive my baggage only to find that I needed to make another call trying to chase my luggage,
If your promising to do something, you have got to do it!
This airline followed the systems and procedures and I had to chase every bit of information for the progress on my bagage. They did not get into my world or put themselves in my shoes, it was a frustrating experience and when I flew back to Hawaii, I deliberately chose another airline.
Businesses can provide exceptional customer experiences when they put themselves in the world of the customer.
One of the things I enjoy seeing is staff members who are given the freedom to inject their personality into their work rather than go through the motions. It makes a world of difference and creates those moments for the customer to have a 10 out of 10 experience.
The first airline were so understanding and they kept me informed vs the baggage example, where I was consistently having to do the work, with no apology,.
Why do complaints happen? It is often because we make promises that we don’t fulfil on.
YOU CAN’T ‘DO’ AN APOLOGY
What Are You Apologising For Feeling, Fact or Opinion?
Men are notoriously terrible at apologies, WHY? Because men will try and Do, an apology, they will give flowers, they will say “sorry”, BUT these expressions of an apology can’t be felt, you don’t feel it.
So when it comes to BE X DO = HAVE if your being apologetic the being is – being apologetic. If you are generally sorry, think about what your sorry for. It’s not about any blame, it’s not about the mistake;
It is, I’m so sorry that I made you feel that way. I’m sorry that you didn’t think I was being honest, that’s terrible, I feel shocked that I made you feel that way, I really apologise.
So, it’s not always admitting blame.
I’ve work with companies where their employees are not allowed to apologise because it’s like admitting blame and they are concerned about the legal implications of that admission.
NO, it is apologising for how you have made them feel.
Is it factual?
For example, the fact is we said we would call you back at 10 o’clock you didn’t get a call until the next day or I can hear that you are really upset that we promised to call you back at 10am and we did not.
Is it an opinion?
Apologising for an opinion, is not saying it’s true, but its true for your customer it’s what they perceive is true.
For example, paraphrasing an opinion is, so you really think we are being dishonest or You really feel like we have tried to dupe you, I am so sorry you feel that way.
Like the experience we had in the restaurant, I was embarrassed to experience that, and I don’t not want to go back, BUT it was so bad they have given me no choice but to choose not to.
The thing you can see in the standards above is that it’s always feeling first.
If there is a high level of feeling always address the feeling first, it must be acknowledged And keep doing that, until they come down. Because if they are NOT coming down, they are NOT feeling acknowledged.
In saying that you do not have to put up with people swearing or being abusive. You can say things like “I can see your really upset, but if you keep swearing at me, I can’t help you while you continue to treat me that way. I’m really sorry but I do need you to be not personally abusive”.
There is no justification for being abusive and even then it’s how you deal with the abuse that will make the difference.
I remember watching someone do this in front of me an airport check in counter, the person complaining was angry, loud and constantly used the word bullshit. The staff member listened and said, “Sir, if you are going to swear, it’s not OK, I know your upset but I don’t need to be sworn at.”. The person grumbled BUT calmed down, they continued the conversation and resolved the problem.
I can remember thinking God that was powerful.
And in saying this, I am speaking to situations when you are dealing with normal upset people. I say this because I do know that when dealing with drunk and drug addicted people there is a whole other method, which all related professionals are high trained in.
Emails and Online Platforms
Even online you need service standards and as you are communicating in most cases writing, the written word and how it is presented is critical. For example, I can see in your language that you are really annoyed with us and I apologise. It’s not our intention to have you feel that way but clearly that’s what has happened.
And, it must be easy for your customer to communicate with you, business that do this well have the highest customer loyalty scores.
The biggest way to lose your online platform customers is the platform itself; and it’s always about how your customers are left feeling.
If your platform does not fulfill on what you promised, or it is clunky and too difficult to understand, or your customers cannot easily communicate with you, they will leave and in most cases you will not hear from them when they do. WHY? Because they cannot contact you!
I recently left a service provider for exactly this reason. This supplier have always given me movie vouchers as part of my deal, during COVID they stopped. Not only did they stop sending them, but they also did not let me know what they intended to do about the expiry dates, quickly coming to an end during restrictive period of lockdown, clearly we could not go to the movies. There was nowhere on their platform that I could contact them via email, or chat-box and when I rang the waiting times to speak with someone were ridiculous.
I was so frustrated, I had wasted so much time trying to communicate with them, I left.
As it happens, a week later I received a generic email to say the movie voucher expiry dates would be extended. Problem is, they were too late.
They were not in the world of their customer, they did not take the time to think about their customer and take actions to ensure any impact COVID may have been having on their customer relationships, they didn’t even send an email to check in with me during this period.
What’s Your System To Solve Your Customer Complaints?
Is there an opportunity here for you to stand out, because most companies will try and avoid direct customer contact, as shown above.
It’s often very difficult to find out who and how to contact a representative of an online business and if you eventually do work it out and communicate, do you actually receive a response.
Businesses that provide services via an online platform that do make it easy to contact them have the best customer Loyalty.
It’s the 85/15 principle. 85% of the outcome is achieved in the first 15%.
When I design training procedures even for something as simple as using a cash register, I always test and measure the procedure with random people who had never used a cash register before.
Then I will analyse the feedback, implement and test again
WHY do I do this,? Because I am committed to making the procedure efficient and customer-friendly.
I often wonder why online platforms don’t test and measure or why, they are not interested in their customers experience. Even gathering feedback!
If your customers cannot communicate with you, how do these businesses gather feedback?
Continuous improvement is all about feedback. Test, measure and implement.
How Do You Gather Customer Feedback?
- How do you gather customer feedback?
- What’s your method of getting feedback from you customers?
- What happens after the feedback?
- Do you respond to your customers and outline what you have done to improve the system or resolve their concerns?
- Do you acknowledge what they have said and thank them for their contribution?
- Do you check in with them, is there extra follow up actions you need to take?
If you handle this really well, it is brilliant!
So what’s your strategy? What’s your system, to gather customer feedback?
The importance of doing statistically valid research vs anecdotal online reviews, is critical.
Do you ‘factually know’ what your customers are saying about their experiences with you? If you don’t, then you are missing an essential ingredient to your revenue growth.