So You've Received a Complaint? Here's 5 Steps You Absolutely Need to Take.

There’s no two ways about it — running your own business is damn hard work. Between the early mornings, late nights and complete lack of weekends, you can sometimes lose track of why you’re doing it. Then, you get a message from a customer telling you they love your product — that it put a smile on their face or simply made their life easier. Suddenly, you remember exactly why you’re doing it and it reignites your motivation.

Then, there are those other, less flattering comments. No matter how great your business is, everyone comes across complaints or negative feedback at some point in their career. It can be hard not to take it personally or let it discourage you — especially when your business is like your baby and you pour your heart and soul into it. The good news is, customer complaints don’t have to be a negative thing. When dealt with correctly,  they’re an extremely valuable tool for improving your product and boosting your professional image. Here’s how to stay cool, calm and collected and turn a salty customer into a satisfied one!

1. Never delete, but take it offline

Yes, it can be tempting to hit ‘delete’ on an angry customer review, Facebook post or email. Some things just go straight into the ‘too hard’ basket. But deleting that post or ignoring that email is a surefire way to make a customer feel like they’re not being listened to — leading to a destructive gremlin-like public comment rampage! So, your first steps will be to stop the complaint (whether publicly or privately) from escalating.  So, don’t delete it – in fact, acknowledge it.  Let them know that their satisfaction is important to you and that you are on it. If you are responding to something on a public forum, like your Facebook page, then grab their contact details and deal with it privately.

2. Get the facts - is this problem an error or an expectation?

In the private setting, find out exactly what happened. It is important that you stay objective and if you are speaking to them directly,  try not to interrupt.  Instead, make notes so you’ve got all the information in front of you. In your response, reiterate the FACTS to them - this will help to diffuse the situation.  Most importantly, you are also trying to figure out whether you and your business have actually made an error OR whether the clients’ expectations have not been met.  Is the client upset because you didn’t deliver on your product or service?  Or is the client upset because they were hoping to get their product or service before a specific date, which was never on the cards (in which case, send them your terms and conditions)?  There is a Grand Canyon sized difference between those two things!    So, get your Sherlock on and ask logical follow up questions. This will help you wrap your head around what’s actually happened.

3. Breathe deep - practice empathy

It’s highly unlikely that you’re going to agree with everything the customer is saying. But no matter what, it’s crucial that you avoid arguing or getting defensive. Instead, put yourself in their shoes and see the situation from their perspective. If the customer feels that you acknowledge their view and are focused on a solution, you are more likely to be able to douse the fire of fury that is raging away inside them.

4. Offer a solution

Your clients are unlikely to be reaching out to you because they feel like having a whinge – although, there are people out there that don’t have anything better to do! More often than not, they probably really thought about it before they decided to put something in writing or confront you over the phone.  Since you have already figured out why the client has reached this particular pain point, keep the client focused on your solution.  That way, the client’s experience isn’t a negative one – rather they'll be blown away by how promptly and attentively you provided a fix.  Mistakes happen.  To everyone!  In my time in corporate, some of the smartest people I know have made the stupidest mistakes.  But, their multi-million dollar clients still came back to them.  Why?  Because they owned up to it and they made it right — and not necessarily by kissing ass! Present multiple solutions to the client . That way you stay in control but the client feels empowered in reaching an outcome.

5. Learn from the experience and follow up

Know that most customers don’t leave complaints, they simply stop using the product and probably tell their mates. In taking the time to leave feedback, the customer has actually gifted you two valuable opportunities. The first is to learn from the criticism and use it to improve your product and the second is to actually retain them as a customer. Once the situation has been resolved, it’s important to tell them how much you appreciate the feedback. Let it simmer for a few days before following up to make sure  you’ve made it right. In this brave new digital world, connection and engagement are gold. So, make yours valuable!

Found this useful?  Check out our thoughts on why having a contract for services is essential for all businesses.