Ten Rules for Managing Customer Complaints
While I have written about complaints in the past, it continues to be an area of interest and concern. In today’s hectic world, complaints can become even more of a problem as disgruntled customers often post negative comments on the Internet. No one likes dissatisfied customers. Most of us are prideful about our work and want to make sure people are pleased with the results. However, it is impossible to please everyone. Hopefully, the following rules can help your organization better understand and tackle the problem.
Rule 1:The customer is not always right. Not all customers are good customers. Some intentionally want to take advantage of you, others are unhappy in life and no one can please them. It is OK to fire a customer and it is OK to agree to disagree.
Rule 2: Poor systems, not poor behaviors, cause the majority of customer service issues. Often people think they are personally responsible and considerate, so there can’t be any service issues. Failure to keep customers informed when schedules change, no system for testing colors and poor methods for communicating the estimate are examples of how procedural mishaps can cause problems. If the same complaints occur over and over, change the system.
Rule 3:Miscommunication happens. No matter how hard we try, things simply are not as easy to communicate as we think. A customer’s definition of a good job may differ quite a bit from our definition. Both parties are correct in their own mind. Identify areas of miscommunication and use photos, spec sheets and examples to make sure those areas are clearly communicated.
Rule 4: Service is about competence, not being nice. Some people want you to be their buddy, others do not. Smile and be pleasant but follow the customer’s lead. Always be polite and efficient but not chatty and intrusive unless the customer encourages you.
Rule 5:Train people what to do so they won’t try to figure it out as they go along. Very few companies have actually trained field employees on what to say and do when approached by the customer. Make sure your field employees understand it is not their job to solve all customer problems but it is their job to be polite, listen and have the project manager or other appropriate person contact the customer. “Look lady, I just work here,” is not the correct response.
Rule 6:Let the air out of the balloon. Complaints are like handling balloons. When they are full of hot air, balloons and customers are both hard to manage. Once you let out the air, it becomes a lot easier. Listen and let the customer talk. Most reasonable people get upset because they don’t feel heard. If the customer does not calm down, you may have a classic difficult person.
A small percent of the population is made up of difficult people. When encountering this minority of fanatical complainers, make sure you carefully document and communicate the situation. Never tell them things like, “Don’t worry, we will take care of it,” as the comment is so broad they will interpret it in their own way and hold you to an impossible standard. If you perform more work in an attempt to make them happy, get them to agree in writing that your effort will satisfy them and they will pay you.
Rule 7:Learn to write things down. Writing things down shows the customer you are listening. It also provides a positive activity for you to do while the customer is upset. If you smile or frown, both can be taken the wrong way. If you write things down, people will also be more careful as to what they say.
Rule 8:Deal with feelings first and facts later. Logic and emotions mix like gas and water. Too often we try to be logical with upset people and we find ourselves going nowhere. Logic plus crazy always equals crazy. It’s like multiplying by zero. People have a right to feel the way the do. Their feelings are theirs and not yours. Agreeing with their feelings does not mean you are agreeing with their version of the facts. Saying, “I can appreciate how you might feel that way, but …” can be a positive approach to the conversation.
Rule 9:Don’t enter the pig pen. There is an old Southern saying that says, “Never fight with pigs; you get all dirty and they just love it.” No matter how hard it is, keep your cool. In most situations, the least emotional person wins. No matter how much you are attached, try not to take it personally. If the person is a classic difficult person, it just happens to be your turn. Tomorrow they will be mad at the dry cleaner or the grocery checkout person.
Rule 10:It’s all about the law of averages. The more work you do and the bigger your company gets, the more complaints you will have. It is just math. Do 100 jobs and everything may go OK. Do a 1,000 jobs and somewhere along the way, something is going to run amuck. While it is all about the law of averages, complaints may not always be sporadic. Sometimes they all seem to come in the same day and usually it is a day where you are already pulling your hair out.
In summary, don’t let a few complaints override the pleasant experience of doing good work and developing a satisfied customer base. Take pride at what you do and don’t let those few exceptions spoil your own attitude.