7 Complaint Management Tips: Save Customers (And Your Sanity)

complaint managementReceiving complaints can be an unsettling experience for someone who prides themselves on the quality of their service, but even the most unreasonable complaints often hide a grain of truth behind the ranting and raving. Complaints are customer feedback, it’s as simple as that, and the most intelligent thing a company can do with complaints is manage them to their advantage.

Below we’ll briefly look at why managing complaints is important and then we’ll jump right into management strategies. You might also consider bringing yourself and your team up to speed with the latest customer service skills and techniques with this fantastic class on dealing with angry customers.

Why Customer Complaints Matter

The reason customer complaints matter is not just hypothetical. A large portion of business hinges on the success of your ability to manage dissatisfaction.

This article published by Executive Blueprints contains some incredibly interesting statistics. First and foremost, it reports that companies lose 20% of complaining customers (other sources find this number to be much higher). However, addressing complaints quickly and handling them professionally will cause over 75% of these customers to give you a second chance.

I hardly need to to stress the importance of losing business, but there are problems of similar magnitude going on here. Executive Blueprints also claims that 50% of customers who have a complaint keep it to themselves. This is very problematic because how can you improve your service if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong?

This is precisely why customer complaints should be encouraged and why social media is becoming such a valuable avenue for discovering why customers are dissatisfied. If you truly desire to run the best possible business, then you need to swallow your pride and get your hands dirty with complaints. And you might as well reap the rewards while you’re at it. Read this great blog post on how internal customer service helps your bottom line.

Executive Blueprints reports that 45% of complaints only reach the front line representative and less than 5% reach management level. Any large corporation makes it very difficult indeed for complaints to get beyond the call centers. And yet management is who makes decisions, and they don’t know what is going on (and it appears that they don’t), then your business is going to have a hard time retaining customers and adapting to new needs. If your business is just getting started, check out this customer development guide for entrepreneurs.

It is common knowledge that complaining customers spread the word with something akin to malicious enthusiasm. A happy customer, on the other hand? A happy customer is content and does not need to profess customer service. But according to Return On Investment, an angry customer will tell 9-15 people about their experience (a happy customer is a real talker if 4-5 people hear about it). So if you let complaints run rampant, word will get around.

1. Award-Winning Complaints

Every once in a while your faith in humanity will be restored by a customer who provides such valuable feedback you’re tempted to offer them equity. The truth is, there are a lot of very good, very accurate complaints out there. And what happens when you get the same complaint over and over? Would you even know you’ve received this complaint before?

All complaints should be recorded by name, date and detail and organized accordingly. This way you’ll know if 300 people are having trouble downloading your Terms And Conditions. Of course, a room full of filing cabinets is not the way of the 21st century. There are a number of excellent complaint management software programs available (of course there are, right?). Check out what Sparta Systems has to say about the benefits of complaint management software. In short, you can streamline the process, implement goals, make sure no complaints slip through the cracks, automate certain processes, etc.

2. The Closed-Loop Process

The closed-loop process is relatively simple. I don’t want to devote all my time to it, but it is absolutely worth mentioning. Essentially, you have a circular, never-ending process comprised of four steps:

  1. Collecting Data
  2. Taking Action
  3. Communicating Feedback
  4. Refining And Implementing Changes

After step 4, you revert back to step 1, but the most important things to consider are steps 2-4. Most companies have no problem with step 1. Collecting data is almost hard not to do, unless you purposefully ignore/delete complaints. But following through and making use of the data is where most companies fail. If you’re looking for a complete tutorial on how to use the closed-loop process, take a look at this article by Mind Tools.

3. The Inevitable Transfer

When a customer calls in with a complaint, they will almost always need to be transferred to someone who is better equipped to help them. There’s nothing wrong with that, so why not just tell the customer the truth? Many times, as all of us have experienced, you are transferred to at least one other representative. First of all, one transfer is acceptable, but two is not. One transfer means you have to explain yourself twice; two means you have to explain yourself three times. That’s just ridiculous.

If a transfer is necessary, don’t just say, “Thanks for your call, please hold while I transfer you.” Instead, the honest answer is the better option: “I’m sorry [sir, ma’am], I’m going to transfer you to [name and title of employee] because they are our [nature of complaint] expert and the best person to answer your question.”

4. The Need For Speed

In many other situations, your sales representatives and customer service reps should be in no hurry whatsoever when it comes to giving each customer time and attention. But complaints need to be addressed quickly; in fact, the quicker the better, according to the Return On Investment article I linked-to above. You can get some great tips on speedy service from this free post on handling customer complaints fast!

This is why having a specific process will help you keep track of complaints and address all of them thoroughly. The closed-loop process or, better yet, complaint management software is highly advisable. If you’re struggling to get feedback, get some much needed help with this slick class on how to interview your customers for useful feedback.

5. The Fine Line Between Friendliness And . . .

While you never want to be overly colloquial, customer complaints are best dealt with at a very human level. Make sure you know the person’s name, don’t be afraid to get to know them (a bit), try to talk freely and honestly, and the customer will recognize the human side of the company they are dealing with.

The last thing you want to do is make the customer feel like they can get whatever they want. Keep the conversation fair and realistic. If the situation is unique, it’s ok to collaborate on meeting half-way. But don’t let the customer get away with too much or else you’ll set a precedent you can’t uphold. If you’re relatively new to customer service, learn the basics and practical applications with this great course on customer service training.

6. When To Cut Your Losses

Not every customer can be saved. And sometimes you have to stick up for your business and what you believe in and let the 1% of clinically crazy customers go their own way and tell their crazy friends about how much they hate your company. That’s ok. It happens to every company in the world. The customer who is never happy (even when they get more than they deserve), who isn’t really looking for a fair trade, who just wants to vent their anger, who will take a free-bee but won’t be happy about it, these are the people you’re better off without. You don’t want to have to deal with them on a weekly basis for eternity. So cut your losses and devote your time to the customers who matter. If you’re a manager, you will gain your employees’ respect by sticking up for your reps and not giving in to every customer demand.

7. When Technology Isn’t Enough

Complaint management software, complaint tracking tools, email, social media, etc., is all good and well, but sometimes it isn’t enough. Don’t trust technology to solve everything. Following up is always a good idea. You need to get someone on the phone and hear their voice and ensure that the issue has been resolved and that they are satisfied. Following up really shows you’re willing to go the extra mile and it allows you to finally close that customer’s complaint file.

Once you’ve solved a customer’s problems, you need to make sure they stay loyal to you and the efforts you gave them. Most of the time this will happen naturally as a result of being satisfied by excellent service and wanting to honor that commitment. Learn how to measure and improve customer loyalty with this five-star course on customer management essentials.