A client has complained – can you make this a positive experience?

One of your clients, possibly hard-won and expensively gained, has reason to tell you that something has gone wrong or your service is not up to expectation.

There is a train of business thinking that you can find a benefit in every adverse situation.  An employee leaves and you have the opportunity of finding someone better; a competitor tempts a client away and you’re propelled to improve your service.  But when it comes to complaints?  You can search for the lessons from a complaint and create a positive impression in the way it is handled, but far better to focus on stopping complaints happening.

The following steps will help you to resolve complaints effectively – and learn from them, so that the same thing doesn’t happen again:

  1. Acknowledge – remember, a complainant could simply stop using your service, share their experiences with others and leave you in the dark about what has happened. The fact that they have got in touch deserves a prompt and polite acknowledgement.
  2. Investigate – investigating what has happened and why can be cathartic, but it can also trigger defensiveness and emotion. Ensure that this step is undertaken in a neutral manner, by someone without prejudice or too much of a stake in the issue.
  3. Communicate – some complaints can be investigated quickly and the whole process completed in very short order. Other more complex matters take time, in which case you need to keep the complainant and others in the business informed.
  4. Propose a solution – if a positive outcome requires doing something tangible for the complainant, make it proportionate and either practical and/or creative. Particularly with technology services, you may be dealing with a real loss or a perception of being let down, so your proposal should generate a positive feeling.  A great response to a complaint can turn even the most disgruntled client into a real advocate.
  5. Negotiate – occasionally there will be a reason to negotiate on your proposal. Leaving aside matters that may require legal resolution or are of a very significant nature, keep an eye on achieving a positive outcome and not on ‘winning’.
  6. Escalate, if necessary – in rare cases you may need to escalate. This might be within your own organisation (for example, from an account manager to a director), or it might be to an external party agreed with the complainant (for example, an ombudsman).
  7. Gain closure – it’s important that everyone involved knows when the complaint has been resolved because this creates certainty and allows everyone to move on.
  8. Improve and learn – complaints aren’t good, but it’s better to know about an issue than the client share their disaffection with everyone but you. If a client goes to the trouble of complaining, there is usually some foundation to it – or it may be a symptom of some other problem.  Use the experience to improve, lead your team and learn to stop future complaints.

How well does your business improve and learn from complaints?  Is your team full of people who embrace opportunities to improve?  How well trained and emotionally intelligent are your team members when faced with a complaint?

If these questions resonate and you want to improve your company’s ability to stop complaints happening, talk to Henchards.  We’ll ensure you have the skills and tools you need to better handle and learn from complaints.