Serve Up Customer Satisfaction

Handle customer complaints with grace to win over buyers.

by Dennis L. Prince
- Aug 30, 2013

Let's face it: At one time or another you're going to be confronted by a dissatisfied customer. How you manage this eventuality is what will poise the situation to either implode upon you or propel you to the next level in business success. Yes, all due to just one surly shopper.

Customers are looking for good products, good service and exceptional shopping experiences. If a sale goes awry, though, there are ways you can step up to delight the disgruntled, while growing your business, too.

Here are a few approaches to help you manage customer complaints with grace and style to turn a bad situation into something good for everyone.

Start by acknowledging that complaints help

When customers take the time to complain, it means they feel strongly enough about your business or product to sound off

The key here is that you agree that you can benefit from a complaining customer. World-famous chef Gordon Ramsay tells his protégés they shouldn't waste their time seeking praise but, rather, they should be hungry to learn what their customers didn't like about what they were served. It's good to consistently satisfy customers, yet it can lead to complacency in the way you operate your business.

When you focus on what isn't going as well, you can direct your attention and efforts to discovering how to make your product even better. Therefore, the skill of handling customer complaints begins by being eager to receive complaints, anticipating the opportunity to make improvements to what you do.

Value each customer, especially those who complain

While it has been reasonably argued that some customers simply look for reasons and opportunities to complain, most aren't motivated to merely spread misery. Actually, when customers take the time to complain, it means they feel strongly enough about your business or product to sound off—and this should be music to your ears.

Many unhappy customers will never say a word, and you'll never have their business again. The complaining customer is often reaching out to point out his dissatisfaction while not having to stop doing business with you in the future. This is your opportunity to learn what has gone amiss and how you can satisfy that customer (and others) so they'll gladly buy from you again. So when that complaint arrives, jump into action.

First, acknowledge the customer politely and professionally, always. Then apologize without deflecting responsibility. Simply say, "We're sorry, and we'd like to make this better for you," as opposed to the subtly accusing: "We're sorry you're having a problem." See the difference?

Now ask open-ended and nonthreatening questions like "How did the product fail to meet your expectations?" "Was the product different than how we described it to you?" "What could we have done to better satisfy you in this purchase?"

When you speak with familiarity, you reassure the customer you're real people, yourselves

Lastly, state the resolution to the customer's complaint and allow him to tell you he's in agreement with the corrective action.

Each of these steps engages the customer in a way that indicates you're interested in his or her satisfaction, demonstrating your commitment. Oftentimes, this sort of approach can quickly defuse even the most irate customer, and can often turn around the experience from bad to good. Customers want to be heard and acknowledged, and when you gracefully engage them to better understand their dissatisfaction, you're on your way to making them a customer for keeps.

Be sincere, not superficial

We're all customers at one time or another each day, and we all know when we're given apathetic "lip service" to our questions or concerns. Break that maddening pattern by offering truly engaging service to your customers.

Rather than use stilted and scripted language like, "We understand you're dissatisfied," use a less formal approach to open the lines of communication like, "We goofed, we're sorry and we ready to make it right for you."

When you speak with more familiarity, be it on the phone or via email, you reassure the customer you're real people, yourselves, giving buyers the confidence that there's someone there who'll properly and personally handle the problem.

Act with urgency

Customers who have a complaint are often impatient about it. After all, their expectation was to receive goods or services, which would allow them to move on to whatever's next in their list of activities. When they complain, it means they have to spend more time on a purchase than they planned. For this reason, you need to ensure you can respond quickly to complaints.

It makes no sense to become personally offended by complaints. They're reacting to your product or service, not to you

If you have an autoreply mechanism set up for first responses, be sure you set the customer's expectations of when they can expect to receive real contact back (usually no more than 24 hours, less if you can manage it). It's also a good idea to have a dedicated "customer concern" path of interaction rather than gathering all correspondence in a generic "customer service" bucket.

Customers with complaints want preferred treatment, and they deserve it having already paid for something yet not received the full expected value.

If you have a dedicated phone line for customer complaints, be sure it's staffed to the best of your ability and publicly list the hours of phone representative service. In the case when complaints will be made off hours, be sure to steer customers to that dedicated email address so they won't wonder if their issues are being redirected to a virtual paper shredder.

Take every complaint professionally, not personally

Going back to chef Ramsay, he's maintained that those in his tutelage—brazenly candid though it may be—take his feedback professionally, not personally. The point is that when complaints come your way, they're showing the gaps in your product or service.

These are the avenues that let you further refine your offerings, helping you find new ways to attract more customers while edging out your competitors. It makes no sense to become personally offended by complaints since few customers know you personally. They're reacting to your product or service, not to you.

Sure, some customers simply cannot be pleased and those are the ones you'll need to quickly move along so you can make way for the real customers. But when a complaint comes your way, seize the opportunity to become better acquainted with what your customers want and expect then handle their complaint with grace and style, to their benefit and yours, too!

About the Author

Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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