Coping with customer grumbles
I recently had to help with a customer complaint in which someone accused a brand of being the worst ever. Let’s use a hypothetical example to illustrate the point.
Let’s imagine that this customer walked into a restaurant, and was not served milk with her tea. Imagine this customer standing up in the middle of all the diners, and saying in a loud voice that this was the worst restaurant ever. Obviously, this customer was so angry that she wanted to cause damage to the restaurant’s business.
Now, let’s examine the true nature of the situation. There was an apocalypse at the milk factory: the cows all go sick, the pasteurizer broke down and the refrigeration truck is overheating. Not a single restaurant has milk for coffee and tea.
In these circumstances, the immediate reaction is anger at the injustice handed down by the customer.
Then real question should be what can be gained from the circumstance. In order to at least retrieve the situation, a full, though unapologetic explanation should be offered to the customer, in front of all the other customers. Most companies will not do this or will do it inappropriately.
They will either retreat, or will respond with anger instead of being measured.
Dealing with customer and stakeholder complaints is one of the most critical aspects of building a strong brand. Responding well to customer complaints wins the customer over, and can win secondary customers as well, if the customer who makes the original complaint talks about the solution.
In order to arrive at the response and solution, there are several steps to be taken.
Listening to the complaint with open ears is important.
The customer must have his or her say. If an argument develops, valuable information will go missing. Recognise the customer’s frustration but do not assign blame yet.
Thinking is often difficult in the heat of the moment, so if need be ask the customer for time to respond adequately.
Thinking will allow the person listening to assess responsibility and the degree of liability on the part of the brand, as well as the need to refer questions to non-frontline people who may need to assist with the response.
Ensure that the internal deadline for the response to the complaint is met.
The explanation should ideally be done face-to-face, though if the customer is enraged, he or she may opt for telephonic or email contact. If an apology needs to be tendered, this should be done by voice and by mail.
If there is liability on the part of an employee, that individual should make the apology. If this is the case, consider it an investment in the employee.
A complaint can often be dealt with on the spot, but if this is the case, then the response should be rapid, and managers must be empowered to deal with complaints.
The sixth step is to learn from the complaint and take preventative action. There will be specific complaints that reoccur and some complaints which are unique.
Tracking the complaints, as assessing them for action is a way to prevent future complaints and improve service.
In some instances, the complaint may be due to an expectation that is unrealistic. If this is the case, the brand needs to alter its communication strategy, either to exclude the expectation or to emphasize core offers and education on what can be reasonably expected of the brand.
The other point is to be proactive wherever possible. In the case of the milk, a print-out on the door notifying about the milk shortage, and an explanation to the waiters is advisable, and easy to implement. If there is a repetitive need to be proactive, managers can use the knowledge to fix the situation permanently. The upside of it is a customer who has a complaint is still interested in receiving service or buying products. The complaint is an alert, and is an opportunity to build the relationship. The customer who quietly walks away is a far greater threat and often a permanent loss.