How to profit from customer complaints

How to profit from customer complaints

Nobody in business welcomes a customer complaint. It usually means taking time out of a busy day to deal with an angry person. But that's the wrong attitude. You should think of a customer complaint as three opportunities in one.

  • An opportunity to get free feedback on something that's not working right in your organization.
  • An opportunity to convert a disgruntled customer into a loyal customer.
  • An opportunity to head off negative publicity as the complainer shares his gripe with others.

How do you turn a complaint to your advantage? Well, like most business operations, it works best if you have procedures, guidelines, and employee training. Whether you centralize or decentralize complaint handling depends on the size and nature of your business. But however you choose to organize the process, you must include several key elements.

  1. Employee training. Employees at every level must understand that it is company policy to take complaints very seriously. The initial response to a complaint should be respectful and helpful, not defensive or "it's not our fault."
  2. Sensitive fact-finding. Make sure you really understand the true complaint. This is perhaps the most important part of the process. By allowing the customer to vent, you'll defuse a large part of the hostility and ill will. There's nothing worse than having a complaint and feeling that nobody will listen. Also, this step provides valuable feedback to pinpoint the exact problem. It may be caused by a badly trained employee or by a glitch in your procedures. But this is your chance to find out exactly what went wrong.
  3. Fixing the problem. Employees must know clearly who has the responsibility and the authority to fix a problem. You may choose to add a bonus of some kind to compensate the customer for inconvenience. But at a minimum, you must remedy the customer's immediate concern.
  4. The follow-up. A supervisor or higher-level manager should always follow up with the customer to apologize again and to make sure that the customer is now satisfied. This is a key step in turning the customer from "disgruntled" back to "loyal." Of course, there's a small minority of customers who are chronic complainers. Whatever you do for them, it will never be enough. But for the vast majority, handling their complaints appropriately can turn a bad situation to your advantage.

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