Five-step guide to handling customer complaints

By Adam Blanch

Small business owners can handle complaining customers by following a few simple steps.

Nearly every time a customer complains, they are trying to tell you that they want to have a continuing relationship with your business. Otherwise, they wouldn't bother. They are also giving you the golden opportunity to improve what you do, and if you respond well, that customer will most often become a dedicated advocate for your business.

The good news is that almost anyone can handle complaining customers brilliantly by following a few simple steps.

1. Attitude

The most important thing is to not take it personally, though you must take it seriously. They aren't complaining about you, and they aren't complaining for the fun of it. They genuinely believe that they have not received what they paid for and you need to believe them to be on their side. Angry customers particularly need this. They are angry because they are afraid they won't be heard and taken seriously.

2. Thank them

Seriously, thank them for taking the trouble to tell you and for giving you the opportunity to fix the problem. Assure them that you want them to get what they need. They don't need you to apologise or compensate them, unless your error has created extra financial burdens and massive inconvenience. They just need to get what they came for and to know that you care about them.

3. Practise active listening

Any type of listening is good, but no one wants to be talking and wondering if you are really understanding them or caring about them. Active listening involves repeating back to them what the problem is to check your understanding and asking them questions to clarify what happened.

4. Give them control

A complaining customer feels out of control. They have already given you their money, or they know they are obligated to, but they're not sure they can get what they paid for. Give them control over the process by asking what you can do to fix the problem or satisfy them. People often avoid this because they fear the customer will demand too much, but you can always say no or make a counter offer.

5. Go beyond and follow up

Once the customer has told you what they want, and you're happy that it is reasonable, give it to them plus a little extra. By doing so, you turn this person into an ambassador for your business. It will be the cheapest advertising that you never paid for. Then call them in a week to see if they are happy with the outcome.

Complaining customers can become the best customers you ever have. How do you treat complaints in your business?


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