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Nine practical ways to make managing complaints simpler

10th Mar 2015
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Everyone gets complaints. Almost no-one likes them.

That’s because they’re a complicated blend of the rational (“this thing you sold me doesn’t work!”) and the emotional (“So now I feel stupid for buying it!”).  But they’re a powerful source of information about your business – and an opportunity to build loyalty.  And dealing with them effectively doesn’t have to be complicated.

Here’s how to:

– use process better

– use smart communication to take the sting out of complaints

– train staff to do it

Processes – make them slicker than a slick thing.

Processes should make things simpler and faster for you AND your customer; if they don’t, it’s worth thinking about fixing them. They should enable you to get on with looking after the customer and listening.

1. Match the customer complaint journey

First, make sure your processes aren’t a set of obstacles to customers.  Complex processes from the customer’s ends means fewer complaints, sure.  But when they do get to you, they’ll be angrier, harder to deal with and less likely to accept resolutions.  Make processes simple for customers and you’ll get rid of a lot of noise – as well as a lot of useful information on what you could do better.  Map the process from the customer’s side – then yours.  How far do they match?

2. Take a different view

Complaints are good news.  A customer has cared enough to get in touch and look for resolution.  Handle that process well and your customer will be a lot more loyal.  It’s the customers who don’t complain you should worry about.  They’re the ones who just quietly disappear without telling you why.

3. Your best source of product and management information

Use complaints as a bellwether for your business. They’re the best source of feedback you have. Customers have tried your product out and it’s not worked.  You can bet that they’re not the only one to have the same problem.  That means you can use the opportunity to improve the product, the process or the communication that surrounds it.  We’ve lost count of the times a complicated, muddily-communicated on-boarding process has led to complaints when customers don’t understand things.

Smart communication to draw the sting

You need to communicate as part of a complaint – you need to send some sort of content to the customer.  You might use letters, social media, emails or even a call.  The content of what you write or say is absolutely vital and probably the biggest influence on how happy the customer is.

And it’s so important now customers have more access to information than ever before – and more platforms to complain from.  A duff reply to a complaint is a lot more embarrassing when a customer posts it on Twitter and your CEO spots it.

4. It’s not just what you say – it’s how you say it.

Remember the last time you complained about something.  We’d guess there were two parts to the complaint:

– what the business did

– how that made you feel

Most businesses are pretty good at dealing with what they did wrong.  They might send a voucher, compensation or a free product.  But that only deals with half the problem – and sometimes is actually worse than doing nothing.  We’ve seen complaint responses offering compensation that have made customers livid, simply because they read like standard, process letters.  They completely ignored how the customer felt.

Complaints are much more complicated than they appear. And the content of your responses is vital.  They need to address the emotional angle of complaints as much as the factual.

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