PROBLEM SOLVING & HANDLING CUSTOMER COMPLAINTS NOTES

Customers are becoming more demanding and in some cases–rude. Complaints are an opportunity to improve existing service and begin delivering quality service. Identifies basic problem solving skills, complex problem and irate customer handling skills. Introduces the concepts of self-talk and class acts. Key Points Covered: Learn why complaints should be considered “opportunities.” Learn why the average business hears from only 4% of its dissatisfied customers. Visualize what the other 96% do. Learn to know the easiest type of complaint to resolve. Learn to understand the four basic steps you should take when handling a specific problem. The more complex problems require expanding these four basic steps. Learn two additional skills needed to diffuse difficult situations. Irate customers can be upsetting.

How To Deal With Customer Complaints
Every business has to deal with situations in which things go wrong from a customer’s point of view. However you respond if this happens, don’t be dismissive of your customer’s problem – even if you’re convinced you’re not at fault. Although it might seem contradictory, a customer with a complaint represents a genuine opportunity for your business:

  • if you handle the complaint successfully, your customer is likely to prove more loyal than if nothing had gone wrong
  • people willing to complain are rare – your complaining customer may be alerting you to a problem experienced by many others who silently took their custom elsewhere Complaints should be handled courteously, sympathetically and – above all – swiftly. Make sure that your business has an established procedure for dealing with customer complaints and that it is known to all your employees. At the very least it should involve:
  • listening sympathetically to establish the details of the complaint
  • recording the details together with relevant material, such as a sales receipt or damaged goods
  • offering rectification – whether by repair, replacement or refund
  • appropriate follow-up action, such as a letter of apology or a phone call to make sure that the problem has been made good

If you’re proud of the way you rectify problems – by offering no-questions refunds, for example – make sure your customers know about it. Your method of dealing with customer problems is one more way to stay ahead of your competitors

ESSENTIAL TIPS IN HANDLING CUSTOMER COMPLAINTS
The hardest complainant type first:
If a customer is abusive you must to make you first goal is to calm the customer’s temper and take control of the situation. You need remain open and friendly, stay calm and keep your voice low and controlled. Tell the customer you are interested in his/her complaint and say ‘in order to help you I need to fully understand your problem’. Then ask ‘can you tell me what is wrong in a calm voice to ensure I focus on the problem (rather than the emotion) so I am better able to find a solution’. Let customer ‘vent his or her frustration’ and don’t interrupt. Telling you their complete story, and describing how upset they are, allows customers to release pent-up frustrations. It is wise to take notes as you go as it helps you with your response and shows the customer you are seriously interested in their problem.

BLAMING OTHERS IN YOUR ORGANIZATION
The worst tactic I have come across is a customer service officer trying to blame me, the customer, for the problem. Never play the blame game! Blaming the customer for the problem will dramatically worsen the situation. Also particularly never use the phrase ‘sir our system requires…‘ or even worse ‘sir you don’t understand our system’ (a common phrase with many service providers in Asia, especially bank staff). Never blame others in your organization. Both the ‘system excuse’ and blaming others will be seen as evasive (or even worse cowardly) and destroy your credibility with the customer. No customer cares about your ‘problems’, they just want their problem solved. Accept responsibility as a representative of your company and place your efforts into solving the problem.
‘FRUSTRATION: HAVING TO RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO CHOKE THE LIVING S OUT OF SOMEONE WHO REALLY DESERVES IT!’ This is a funny saying however it has no place in customer complaint handling, in spite of the bad attitude of many
customer service’s staff I have met (and trained) over the years.

GET THE ENTIRE STORY:
When the customer has told you the whole story regarding a complaint tell the customer what you will do to solve the problem. Do not tell the customer what he or she must do to solve the problem. Use phrases such as… ‘I will contact the xyz department’… ‘I will find the document’… ‘I will gather the necessary information’ etc. If you use ‘I’ in place of ‘you,’ you will help to minimise tension as it assures the customer that you are taking responsibility for the resolution of the issue. If you need to refer the matter to a third party always check back with the customer to ensure the other party has made contact and that the problem has been solved. Sure it’s wise to check with the third party to ensure a solution has been found first, however contacting the customer after the event will reinforce both your own and your company’s image. Important point never use the word ‘no’, either recommend a solution or suggest a compromise.

PROBLEM SOLVING AS A CHANCE TO LEARN AND IMPROVE
If you view problem solving as a chance to find out how to improve your company’s operation (or image) and as an opportunity to learn something, rather than a nasty experience, you can approach these difficult situations with a more positive frame of mind. In most complaint situations there are only win-win or lose-lose results. Everyone will win with satisfied customers as you can gain a positive company image and an advocate for you and your products/services (plus hopefully some personal satisfaction) or everyone can lose with upset customers and the gradual destruction of your company’s place in the market plus… personal emotional upset.
Every time you allow someone else to change your emotional state YOU LOSE. Turn complaints into opportunities! In reality when you win, so does the customer and if you lose, so does the customer.

IT’S BETTER TO RECEIVE A COMPLAINT THAN HAVE AN EX-CUSTOMER THAT NEVER TELLS YOU WHY THEY LEFT!
FOLLOW-UP:
1. After you’ve resolved a customers’ complaint, it’s essential you place a record on file to ensure the next person handling the customer is aware of the problems encountered so they do not inadvertently ‘walk into a minefield’.
2. Best practice in customer service demands that we place a file note to give a little extra attention to the customer to reinforce the fact that the previous problem was a ‘one off’. This may well cement good future relations.
3. You must also ensure that the problem’s causes are analysed and counter measures are employed to make sure the same situation does not recur. If you learn a ‘better’ way you do business make the learning worthwhile and find a way for your company to make the changes required. Also the last thing you want is for any customer to have a similar problem let alone the same customer have two bad experiences in a row. If they do, chances are you’ve lost them (and all those they can influence) forever.

ONE UNANSWERED COMPLAINT CAN LEAD TO THE LOSS OF LARGE NUMBERS OF POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS
Effective or ’good’ customer service needs to be a company wide philosophy not just a procedure. Effective complaint handling is a key element to retaining customers. All job descriptions should contain a responsibility statement for all functions and levels of staff,
regardless of their perceived requirement for direct customer contact (or not). In hiring interviews, orientation programmes and training sessions, emphasize that everyone is in the customer service business. Make sure that all employees understand how they directly or indirectly ‘effect’ the customer. Include customer service in all performance evaluations and set up a complaint recording system with a section to report outcomes and responsible personnel.

Even if you don’t have a formal ‘Total Quality Management’ function ask employees to submit a list of the specific things they’ve done to help provide superior customer service. If ‘to serve a customer is the only reason for a business to exist’ (and it is) you need to be passionate about updating or modifying your staff’s attitudes and company procedures to eliminate as many complaints as you can.

LEARN TO LOVE COMPLAINTS, THEY ARE GUIDEPOSTS TO IMPROVED PERFORMANCE!
If you can view problem solving as a chance to find out how to improve your company’s operation (or image) and as an opportunity to learn something, rather than a nasty experience, you can approach these difficult situations with a more positive frame of mind. In most complaint situations there is only win-win or lose-lose results. Win with satisfied customers and a positive company image (plus personal satisfaction) or upset customers and the gradual destruction of your company’s hard fought place in the market and personal emotional upset. Every time you allow someone else to change your emotional state YOU LOSE. Turn complaints into opportunities! Remember when you win, so does the customer and if you lose, so does the customer.

Under the heading of “focus on the people who focus on the customers”, a manager’s customer service guide I once read (source unknown) stated:
“Make customer service a part of all written or verbal job descriptions—no matter the function or level. In hiring interviews, orientation, and on-the-job training, emphasize that everyone is in the customer service business. And make sure that all employees understand how they directly or indirectly ‘touch’ the customer.”

“Remember that people do what’s expected when it’s inspected! Include customer service in all performance evaluations. Prior to conducting evaluations, ask employees to submit a list of the specific things they’ve done to help provide superior customer service.”

“Go on a paralysing policy hunt! Ask employees to identify policies and procedures that get in the way of providing good service. Then do your best to update, modify, or eliminate as many as you can.”

Research indicates that:
1. Seven out of ten complaining customers will do business with you again if you resolve the complaint in their favour and if it is resolved on the spot, 95% will do business with you again.
2. A typical business hears from only 4% of its dissatisfied customers; the other 96% just go silently away and 91% of them will never come back.
3. A typical dissatisfied customer personally tells more than eight people about his or her problem. With today’s communication options and social media usage a dissatisfied customer may now publicize his or her dissatisfaction to thousands.

Talking of dissatisfaction… dissatisfied with your job? Take a look at the free blank resume form and update your resume perhaps!

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