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Category: ENTREPRENEURSHIP, The Entrepreneur

Handling customer complaints
Written by Tendai Tambudze
20 August 2012

Negative feedback about products or services is inevitable; and invariably at some point everyone will deal with a disgruntled client. After all the hard work and effort that goes into pleasing a customer, disappointing comments and complaints can be discouraging. Research has shown that most customers do not bother to voice complaints and usually leave and never come back.  This means any complaint that is given, albeit harsh and discouraging, presents an interactive opportunity to make up for any wrong doing and retain a customer.

The reputation of a business takes a knock, every time a customer leaves and bad mouths the service. Keeping channels of communication open at all times and dealing effectively with complaints is important for maintaining the good will of a company within the wider market place.

Take responsibility

The first rule of dealing with a disgruntled customer is letting them vent. Allow the customer to voice their dissatisfaction and do not interject to correct them, no matter how emotional they (or you) may be. It’s always better to let the customer vent to you, than let them walk off angry and carry their tirade of complaints to would be customers.  The problem must then be acknowledged and an apology must be issued.  Once accountability has been taken, your view point can then be shared in the most polite way possible.  Immediate steps to fix the problem should then be proposed to show that you care. Once the customer is somewhat placated, the complaint can even be turned into a form of market research by asking which aspects of the service they were pleased with and any other issues they would like to comment on.

An insurer once sent me the following heartfelt and sincere apology for a mistake they made with my premium.

“We're sorry for any inconvenience you have experienced and thank you for giving us a chance to show you just how much we value you as our client. We appreciate your loyalty over the last year and we hope to build a lasting partnership with you for years to come!”

They made immediate steps to correct the error and called again to apologise and check if I was happy. Needless to say, I was very satisfied with the way they handled with the issue and am still happily insured with them.

Make it easy for customers to complain

In addition to responding appropriately to complaints, it is worthwhile to make it easy for the customer to complain by being accessible. Suggestion boxes or books can be used where appropriate. Subscribing to HelloPeter.com for an annual registration fee of R375 could pay off in many ways.  More than 2000 companies are using this website to service customer issues. This may not be relevant for all business, especially smaller companies but this is a prime example of the effectiveness of accessibility. Smaller businesses have a greater responsibility to treat each complaint on an individual basis

But is the customer always right?

Some people are dishonest and will try to take advantage of the saying that thecustomer is always right’ to make baseless claims. Some situations and mistakes could have some serious legal and financial implications. In such a case, it would be better to keep promises to a minimum and consult and strategize carefully before dealing with the situation. Forbes.Com contributor Jeff Reddy agrees,  “The customer is not always right”, he says, “but they do have all the answers.”  Most would agree that they also have all the money and effectively handling their complaints will keep their money in your bank account. 

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