Turn Customer Complaints into Raving Fans

No matter how hard a company tries, once in a while something will happen that causes a customer to complain.  The way in which this complaint is handled can make a big difference in future sales.  I have a personal example of this.

There are three dry cleaners in my town that I have used in the past.  They were all fine and I had no real preference for one over the other.  None of them stood out – until they ruined a shirt.  The first two cleaners said, “Oh well.  There’s really nothing we can do.”  One actually tried to blame the mistake on me, the customer!  The third cleaner pointed out the stain on my shirt and acknowledged their mistake.  I then received a written apology from the owner, a check for the value of my shirt, AND a $25 gift certificate for future cleaning.  Guess which dry cleaner I use exclusively now!

 I have spent much more money at this cleaner than what it cost them to remedy the situation.  And the other cleaners lost all my future business.  Here are a few tips for the best way in which to handle a customer complaint in your business.

First of all, be prepared.  You must anticipate negative reactions and be ready to deal with them.  Make a list of all the potential problems you can think of.  Then prepare a list of remedial actions you can take for each problem you have identified.  Prepare for these cases and most importantly, train your staff on how to handle them.

 We all believe so strongly in our product that it is hard to hear a complaint.  We often become defensive, unsympathetic, or even angry when confronted by a customer.  But the best thing to think about is the opportunity this customer is giving you to improve your product or service.  Accept this input graciously.

 If someone complains in your store, immediately bring them to a quieter place, away from other customers (so there is no audience and no one feels additional pressure).  Listen to the complaint without interrupting.  Then ask a question or two in a nonthreatening tone.  You want to make sure they understand that you want to help them. 

 Apologize in a sincere way and thank the customer for bringing this to your attention.  Remember that your customer really does want your product or service to work for them – and this is what you want too!

 Customers like to be thanked.  And they like to be part of the solution.  Ask them how things can be improved.  And then thank them for helping you.  Offer them a meaningful solution and, if appropriate, explain that you will talk to the employee involved.  Do not let the customer leave without a solution!

 If you do these things well, most or all customer complaints will turn into returning business.


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