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Five quick tips on managing customer complaints

Ron Kaufman"For every person who actually comes to complain to you, there is a quantum number who won’t come to you,” says Ron Kaufman, author of the new book Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet. “They’re the ones who go off and tell somebody else, complain about you online, and take their business elsewhere. Let’s say 1 out of 100 of your customers actually comes to you with their complaint. Shouldn’t you really value that person times 100? Because they’re representing all the other people who never came to you, you should be happy—or if not happy, at least very, very appreciative—when someone actually takes the time to give you a second chance.”

Read on for Kaufman’s advice on how to use customer complaints to uplift your service.

Thank them for their complaint. Give positive recognition by saying, right off the bat, “Thank you for reaching out.”

“Show appreciation for the complaining customer’s time, effort, communication, feedback, and suggestions,” says Kaufman. “Always keep in mind that the customer didn’t have to come to you at all. He could have simply taken his business to your competitor. When a customer gives you the opportunity to recover their service, be grateful.”

Don’t be defensive. It’s easy to get defensive when an angry customer is on the other end of the line. Customers with complaints exaggerate situations, they get confused, and yes, they may even lie about how things went down.

“When you get defensive, you raise the temperature even higher,” notes Kaufman. “Think about the last time you had a disagreement with your spouse. How did it make you feel when he or she told you that you were wrong about something or completely denied that a set of events happened the way you said they happened? Probably not very happy. When a customer complains, they’re doing so because they feel wronged in some way. You don’t have to agree with what they’re saying. But you do have to agree to hear them out. That’s how you keep the conversation moving in a positive direction.”

Acknowledge what’s important to them. Kaufman teaches that service providers must find a complaining customer’s value dimension (or what’s important to them). Even if you think the customer’s complaint is unfair, there is something they value that your company didn’t deliver on. Embrace that value.

“What the customer wants is to feel right,” explains Kaufman. “When you agree with their value dimension, you’re telling them they are right to value this specific thing. For example, if a customer says your service was slow, then that customer values speed. You might say, ‘Absolutely, you deserve quick, efficient service.’ Or if a customer says your staff was rude, you might say, ‘We do agree that you should be treated with courtesy and respect every time you come to our company.’

“When you validate what a customer values, you aren’t agreeing with them that your service is slow or that your staff is rude,” he adds. “You’re saying, ‘We agree with you on what you find important and what you value. And we want to deliver in those areas.’”

The last thing a customer with a complaint wants to hear you say is: “You’re wrong.” What they want to hear is that you understand them, appreciate them, and agree with them on the importance of the value they have cited in their complaint.

Here are a few quick scripts to use when responding to customer complaints:

Customer Complaint: Rude Service
Your customer says: “Your staff was rude and totally unprofessional.”
You say: “You are right to expect courteous, respectful, and professional staff.”

Customer Complaint: Too Many Rules
Your customer says: “Your policies are rigid. Your company is so bureaucratic.”
You say: “I agree that we should be as flexible and user-friendly as possible. Your suggestions can really help.”

Customer Complaint: Overpriced
Your customer says: “This product isn’t anything like what I was promised. And your price is way too high!”
You say: “I am on your side in this situation. You have a right to be satisfied with whatever you purchase from us. You deserve good value for your money. Let’s review what you have purchased and see if there’s a better option for you.”

Customer Complaint: Too Slow
Your customer says: “I’ve been waiting forever. Why did it take you so long to take my order?”
You say: “We understand that in today’s world speed counts. You deserve fast, friendly service.”

Customer Complaint: Bad Website
Your customer says: “Your website is terrible. I couldn’t find the information I needed.”
You say: “You are right to want an informative, user-friendly website. What information couldn’t you find? Your suggestions on how to improve the site are a big help.”

Notice how your responses make the customer feel right. We don’t argue over the facts: rude staff, stiff policies, or insufficient product features. But we do actively agree on the importance of what they value most.

Let’s face it—the customer is not always right. But customers are always important, and we can make them feel much better by agreeing with them on the importance of the service dimensions they identify and value.

Ron Kaufman is the author of Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet (Evolve Publishing, 2012, ISBN: 978-09847625-5-2, $14.95, www.UpliftingService.com). 

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