Elegantly Managing Customer Complaints.

complaining in shopWhen people are complaining they often develop a different and more aggressive personality. This article will discuss professional ways to handle customer complaints and calm the angry customer.

A customer complaint might be described as a gift from the client to the organization as it is an opportunity for the company to rectify a problem and, at the same time, strengthen customer loyalty. It is better for the customer to tell the company about his problems than for him to stop buying from us without telling us why (A.K.A., voting with their feet!”). A true test of a company’s commitment to service quality is in the way it responds when things go wrong. TARP, a firm specializing in customer service research found: “Customers who complain and have their complaints satisfied are more likely to purchase additional products… than are customers who have experienced no problems with the organization or it’s products.”

Do not try to manipulate the customer’s perception by calling a problem an “incident”. If your salary does not arrive in your bank account every month…for you, is it an incident that you can not pay your mortgage or is it a problem?

The Five-step Technique to Placate an Angry Customer:
1. Acknowledge the emotion                        Complaining in airport
2. Acknowledge the problem
3. Sympathize
4. Apologize
5. Offer Alternative action

Psychological Points
1. Find out exactly why the customer is angry?
It is possible that their aggression covers their fear that they are going to be attacked and blamed for the problem? Have you ever met a customer who calmed down when they were told that they were right to call or send for us? Normally there is a strong need for reassurance behind their aggression. Once the customer knows / feels that they are not going to blamed for anything, they are easier to deal with. If possible, or appropriate, move the customer into a quiet area where other customers cannot hear the conversation. Ensure that the complaint receives priority over other matters.

2. Acknowledge the problem in a constructive manner.
Saying “Oh, we often have that problem with that product” sends the wrong message to the customer. Saying this, effectively indicates to our customers that we know that we manufacture and sell bad products. In other words, you are not defending the company, you are being disloyal to the company and your colleagues.
Say something like “Let’s see how we resolve this quickly for you” – The “we” makes it a collaborative effort to find the best solution, not an individual, possibly imposed, one.

3. Sympathize do not EMPATHIZE.
Tell the customer that you understand their feelings and would probably feel the same as them, if the same thing happened to you. Indicate that it is normal to feel this way and that the inconvenience is unforgivable. When you empathize with someone you “feel their pain / frustration, etc.” which can impede you from actually helping them. This leads you to the next step…

4. Apologize
Only apologize for the inconvenience of having the problem and being forced to contact customer services – nothing else. Focus more on solving the problem now than the apology itself. Do not overdo the apology as repetition can often reinforce the memory of why the apology was necessary which is counterproductive.

5. Offer Specific Actions to resolve the situation.
Saying “I will see if I can get something done for you!” implies that the whole company is inefficient except for the speaker and (s)he has the power to fix everything. It may create a marvelous impression for the speaker but not for the organization.
Once you know EXACTLY what the problem is, work out the solution with the customer. They will often have in mind a solution to their problem and would normally appreciate being asked. If they ask for your solution to the problem, present at least two choices. By putting the solution you prefer last you may influence them to your way of thinking (this is based on the concepts of the double-bind and end-weighting).

Do not promise to “TRY” to find a solution: the word is usually interpreted (subconsciously) as being a lack of commitment to the action. It is better to use “I will do my best to…” or “I will do all that I can to…” or a similar phrase which indicates that the commitment is there but there might be other factors which might intervene in the action.

Always take the customer into a brighter future once the problem is solved: “We are sure that when the problem is solved, you’ll be happy with the result.” Avoid using “If” because it indicates that there is a possiblity it will NOT be resolved – use “when” instead – this indicates that the matter WILL be resolved, the only question is when.

Avoid Letting the Customer’s Aggression Make you Defensive

1. Never ever attack the Salesperson.
It is very easy to do, but remember that they are colleagues and deserves our support because their efforts help to pay our salaries. Defend the sales person. Find out who it was by asking “May I ask exactly who it was?”. Use the person’s name: “What exactly did Pete promise you?” Using the person’s first name personalizes them and makes it much more difficult (psychologically) to attack them. Asking for direct evidence of EXACTLY what they said gives you something to defend.

2. Never attack the product.
The product is where the money comes from to pay your salary. Defend the product. Put the product in perspective and measure it against other products in the same price range/field – not against an unspecified ideal. Did the product fail to meet established claims or the customers perception. Put the problem in perspective. No product lasts forever and maybe their’s has lasted longer than normal. Draw attention to the good points that are special or specific to this product.

3. Never attack the company.
Bring the company close to the customer. Continually reframe the situation:
A. Focus their attention on the group that actually processes the orders/dispatches them, etc., rather than on the multinational aspects of the company.

B. Instead of blaming the company or department for the problems, focus on the good points of the company. If we tell our customers the bad points of the company, we are giving them reasons to go to our competitors. In other words, we are working for our competitors, but without a salary from them. Never say that most of the staff are on holiday / having lunch / in a meeting / sick, etc., as the customer does NOT care about the reasons why the organization can’t or doesn’t respond – all they want is a solution!

C. Never say: “Oh, it is the warehouse again, they never check the orders properly.” Instead say: “I’m sorry, but the product is so popular that occasionally mistakes occur in the urgency of meeting customers’ needs.” Always be positive instead of negative in your responses!

4. Never attack the customer.
Either by verbal or non-verbal language. The customer does not buy our products because of how they work, they buy them because they provide the results they want by covering their needs, wants and lacks. Always make them feel good for having the excellent taste to purchase our products and the good sense to immediately contact customer services when the problem occurred.

5. Work for a resolution to their problem.
It is often easy to tell the customer how you will solve his problem, but frequently you are dependant on other people to carry out the solution. Make it your responsibility to ensure that the promised action is carried out properly and on time. This is a hallmark of good customer service.

6. Ask for feedback on what has happened.
Once the problem has been solved check  with the customer to ensure that they are happy with the result. Then, if appropriate, arrange to contact them a second time as a “follow-up” to the first contact. When you resolve the customer’s problem it will improve the working relationship.

– Listen to the customer
– Let them give you a full description of the problem.
– Make clear, concise notes: name, contact details, dates, product, etc.
– Apologize for the problem.
– Accept responsibility for RESOLVING the customer’s complaint.
– Fulfill your commitments.
– Set a call-back time and stick to it.
– Whenever possible, make the first move. Do NOT leave it to the customer.
– Say “All we have to do is decide what must be done…and if it is possible, we will do it.
– Offer two possible solutions for resolving the problem.

– Interrupting them.
– Automatically accept responsibility or liability – It might not be the company’s fault!
– Jumping to conclusions before you have ALL the facts.
– Talking down to, or attack, them in any way. E.g., “You must have done…”
– Allowing their bad temper to make you lose your’s!
– Appealing for sympathy by justifying your position. Phrases like “OH, we have a lot of people off sick this week” or “We have just changed the system” only make the person angrier.
– Thinking that the client wants your excuses, they want RESULTS.
– Using logical argument with an angry client. It usually makes them angrier.

Remember, it costs more to gain a new customer than it does to retain a current or old one.

See the following blog posts for more detailed information:
– Dealing with angry people : 12 most common mistakes 1.
Short link: http://wp.me/p2guX2-1k
– Dealing with angry people : 12 most common mistakes 2.
Short link: http://wp.me/p2guX2-1p
–  Dealing with angry people : 12 most common mistakes 3.
Short link http://wp.me/p2guX2-1C
–  Dealing with angry people : 12 most common mistakes 4.
Short link: http://wp.me/p2guX2-30

Sources of Graphics:
Complaining in shop: workpulse.io
complaining in airport: cxcafe.maritzcx.com

© Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates, S.L., Madrid, 28011, Spain. June, 2015

About ianbrownlee

Ian Brownlee, the founder of Brownlee & Associates has been actively involved in the field of interpersonal & transcultural communication since 1977. He has worked in universities and companies in the following countries: Laos, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, England, The United States of America & Spain, as a teacher, university lecturer, trainer, researcher & consultant. In addition, his experience in living in these countries, and studying the language & communication and interaction styles of each has aided him in reaching a real understanding of intercultural and transcultural differences and how to resolve them. Ian Brownlee has various masters degrees from British Universities: One in Linguistics & Teaching English Overseas from Manchester University, one in Training & Development with a specialization in the area of Communication and Adult learning awarded by the University of Sheffield. He has also gained professional qualifications in Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy from various professional organizations. During his university career he has also studied elements of Sociology, Organizational psychology, Educational psychology, Psycholinguistics and Kinesics. He is a licensed Practitioner, Master Practitioner, and Master Trainer in NLP. as well as being a trainer in Ericksonian Hypnosis. He is a member of a wide range of professional organizations involved in Training, Applied Psychology, Hypnotherapy & Ericksonian Hypnosis, Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Communication & Cross-cultural Communication. He is also recognized by the Program on Negotiation, Harvard University, as a Negotiation Skills Trainer & Mediator and has been a collaborator on various projects with the program, and as such is in great demand as a negotiation consultant for some of the largest multinationals operating worldwide. His wide experience gained in multinational organizations in positions such as Director of Training, Communications Consultant and Negotiator / Mediator has helped many people to learn and apply new methods of negotiating skills and advanced communication techniques both in their private and professional lives. He has published various articles & books related to the field of interpersonal communication and he is the author of all the courses taught by Brownlee & Associates. He has lived and worked in Spain since 1985, initially as a trainer / Special Assistant in a multinational pharmaceutical company and then as the Training Manager for a multinational company involved in Clinical Analysis & Nuclear Medicine. Brownlee & Associates was formed in 1991 and currently has a small, highly-trained staff. While based in Madrid, courses are given world-wide either in English or Spanish. Brownlee & Associates currently work with leading international companies in the areas of pharmaceuticals , Information systems, luxury products, food & beverages, etc.
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