Understanding complaints

Steve RitchieWorking within the service industry for over 25 years, I’ve noticed that people complain in many different ways – from offering ideas and feedback to improve the service, to frustration, upset and sometimes aggressive behaviour. Gone are the days of a face-to-face jousting battle to get a personal outcome as customers now have a range of different methods available to them – from calls and emails, to the dreaded social media rant.

Interestingly, the number of people escalating complaints on social media in 2015 went up to 36%. And, these customers tend to expect a response within 60 minutes even in the evenings and at weekends. Businesses are now looking at social media as being the quickest way to hear about a complaint, and it can also be the quickest way to quash one too. In this day and age it’s encouraged for companies to have a reputable complaints management system in place to protect their brand.

As a Learning and Development Advisor, this is a special area of interest for me and here are some top tips for anyone handling complaints:

Deal with the complaint quickly: more than 52% of people think highly of businesses that deals with complaints quickly and effectively. If you have to delay the resolution, make sure the customer is kept informed throughout. Ultimately, dealing with the complaint quickly can help to ensure customer retention and stop any reputational damage. It’s also important to note that over 48% of people say they would have been happy with just a good old “sorry”. 

Empower people through good training: train your team members and give them the ability and autonomy to deal with customers’ frustrations and complaints. Empowerment will help to enhance your team’s development and professionalism, and ultimately, improve the service delivered. 

Active listening: people can tell instantly if they are being taken seriously and a lot of the time people just want to feel heard. How you do this depends on the medium used but if you are face-to-face or on the phone, make sure you repeat the complaint and your intended actions back to the customer, highlighting that you were listening and that you understand their frustrations.  

Find out all of the facts: in line with the above, if someone is complaining about a certain person or service show the complainant respect by taking it seriously and getting the point of view of everyone involved. Never jump to your own conclusions. Your teams will respect you for listening to them and ensuring it is dealt with correctly. 

Never make promises you can’t keep: if the complaint is out of your control, never promise solutions that you may not be able to honour. This will escalate the complaint, frustrating the customer and in the end, make your business look unprofessional.

Be grateful for the complaint: Thank the customer for their feedback – we should appreciate the fact that they bothered to tell us so we can fix it! A customer that takes the time to complain, and has their situation resolved well, might become even more loyal as a result. 

Learn from it: With all interactions between customers and service providers, there’s an opportunity to learn both from the complainant and the context of the complaint. Once the customer is happy and the issue is resolved, asking your people good questions around what could have been avoided and putting steps in place for the future can create a culture of learning from service failures that can be invaluable for your business.

Understanding complaints, and the business processes that surrounds them, can tell us a great deal about how we communicate with customers. They also provide valuable service and marketing data. The challenge is to use the data to make decisions and to solve problems in all areas of our business. Remember, most of the time, it’s not the complaint that’s the problem but how you deal with it.   

Stephen Ritchie is a Learning and Development Advisor for Mitie Client Services

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