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Customer complaints: How to correctly handle unhappy customers

Making the most of customer complaints

It used to be that complaints could only be made in person or over the phone, and let’s be honest, it’s part and parcel of being British to stay silent unless you’re really miffed about something. But the internet and social media have changed things. Unhappy customers have plenty of platforms that they can use to make complaints.

While complaints should definitely be avoided by all businesses, they can still be turned into a positive outcome. There are no companies that are immune to customers occasionally having a bad experience. Whether it’s because of an internal error that led to a missed order, or a chef having a bad day and forgetting to season the main course, we’re all human and we all make mistakes.

What’s important is knowing how to deal with those mistakes. By correctly handling customer complaints, you can make sure you give yourself the chance to give that customer (and future customers) a better experience.

Listen and understand

The first thing to do when you receive a complaint is to listen carefully, regardless of what it’s about. Your customer is complaining for a reason. No matter how small the complaint or whether it’s regarding a product, service, or something else, they should all be taken seriously.

Now that most businesses have multiple online platforms, there are many different types of customer complaints. It could be anything from a one star review on Google My Business to a hashtag on Twitter. It’s better to take the time to properly understand a complaint and give a thorough response rather than quickly reeling off a generic and insincere reply.

Give a genuine apology

It’s natural to feel hesitant to apologise. Nobody likes admitting they were wrong or that they made a mistake. For businesses, maintaining a strong brand image and a reputation for getting things right might also contribute to a reluctance to dish out apologies. Furthermore, just saying ‘sorry’ can sometimes feel like a bit of a cop out!

Despite this, you should never underestimate the power of a genuine apology. Most customers just want to feel heard and appreciated and an apology goes a long way in delivering this.

In fact, a study by economists at The University of Nottingham found that companies that apologise to unhappy customers fare better than companies that offer financial compensation. From this, we can see the importance of admitting a mistake and giving a heartfelt apology. Plus, apologies are free, so you don’t lose anything.

Find a solution

If a customer is disgruntled because of a simple, easily fixable error, then rectifying the mistake and giving an honest apology might be sufficient. But some mistakes can cause customers serious, ongoing issues. In this scenario, you may have to dig deeper and find a solution.

This could include speaking with your team members or more senior members of staff to find a comprehensive solution. If the customer has threatened to cancel their account and leave entirely, then you may have to go above and beyond to offer compensation or a discount on future purchases.

It should be clear when a complaint has the potential to escalate. By listening carefully to what your customer has said and liaising with team members, you can sort the simple errors from the catastrophic blunders. And when you get some experience successfully resolving customer complaints, you’ll only get better at quickly finding solutions.

Make sure you follow up with the customer

Believe it or not, customers really will notice if businesses don’t reach out to them and show them that they care. You could be following up with customers regularly, whether it’s through a newsletter or by sharing content on social media.

It’s no different when it comes to complaints. A survey to review how a customer’s complaint was handled will let them know you haven’t forgotten about them. You can also benefit from the answers you collect, so it’s a win-win situation.

Even a personalised email to the customer wouldn’t be out of the question. You can do this by using their name and contacting them directly. This will let the customer know they’re valued and that you have taken the time to address their concerns. It might take a bit more time, but this type of communication is priceless. It really could make the difference between retaining or losing business.

Learn from mistakes and use them to improve

Finally, the most important thing is to learn from your mistakes. There’s no point giving a genuine apology to one customer if you then go and give another customer the exact same substandard experience! And if you keep making major errors, this is going to cost your business a fortune in compensation and discounts.

By learning from your errors, you can improve your business in so many ways. If you already have a policy for handling customer complaints, it might be necessary to break the mould and treat certain cases individually. Being open-minded to complaints and using them as an opportunity to make improvements will help you to provide a better experience for future customers.

Are you ready to handle a customer complaint?

In truth, getting a bad review every now and then is actually a good thing. It keeps you grounded and gives you an opportunity to learn and improve. Every business is bound to receive complaints every now and then. What really matters is how they go about handling those customer complaints.

Now that many pubs, restaurants, gyms and shops have reopened after COVID-19, we’ve taken a step towards returning to normality. We still can’t go on holiday yet, and getting on public transport is more of a nervous experience than it should be, but we’re almost back to normal. This means dealing with customers in the flesh, something that millions of employees across the UK haven’t had to do in a very long time.

Knowing how to handle customer complaints is crucial in the modern world. Negative reviews on Google and Twitter can be highly damaging as they are available for anyone to see. But by quickly and effectively handling customer complaints, you can deal with the problem before it escalates to that level.

Whether you work in retail, hospitality or childcare, we can customise a course to suit your working environment. To get your team up to speed with handling complaints, contact us today.