“We make the assumption that everyone sees life the way we do.”
— Don Miguel Ruiz (The Four Agreements)
Dealing With Complaints
This is where your culture of ‘good manners’ will pay off. Sooner or later, you will get a complaint from a dissatisfied customer, vendor or other person. Take this as a sign you are doing something right — they are coming to you to solve a problem, rather than complaining to other potential customers. You need to relax; it isn’t all about you, and everyone deals with dissatisfied customers at one point or another. So like all successful companies, you need to have a ‘plan’ with regard to how you will deal with complaints. A good plan starts before a complaint is made by knowing your client’s needs and expectations so you can be proactive in dealing with customers.
Next you need to be sure you understand what the complaint actually is. Frankly, many complaints are the result of mere misunderstandings, so be sure you understand what the person is actually coming to you about. Be on the lookout for any underlying issues beyond the surface, but be prepared to also accept the complaint as valid and investigate it thoroughly. Tell them you appreciate this opportunity to improve your business, and that you are grateful they trusted you enough to approach you with this problem. If you don’t say exactly that, at least think it and display this attitude. Treat it as a free learning opportunity for you.
If the complaint is about one of your employees, do not blindly sell out your employee in hopes it will keep the client/customer. If the complaint is groundless you risk losing a good employee, isolating the rest of your staff and also a customer, who will secretly see you as weak or doubt your judgment. Assure your client that you are going to investigate it thoroughly, then do so. Try to find a resolution which provides a win-win scenario. Perhaps your employees need to learn some new skills, and you can honestly assure the client that you learned something new.
Whatever the situation may be, clients need to know and believe that their complaint is listened to, understood and dealt with. The solution is figuring out what everyone requires to fulfill their needs. Sometimes even just listening well is a solution in itself. So try not to be on the defensive. Repeat what they’ve told you to make sure you’ve got it right. Ask them, if appropriate, what they feel might be an adequate solution. If the client is reasonable, your job is already done. If they’re unreasonable, at least you know that right off the bat and know what their starting position is.
Remember: while you have the power as the provider, your client has the power in terms of future transactions, and their circle of influence. The ideal outcome means you both walk away satisfied with increased trust and goodwill and knowledge.
Complaints aren’t just inconveniences — complaints can be useful tools for you to make your business better and more successful, and win a loyal customer (and all the people they recommend in future) for life.