Handling Complaints and Feedback

How do you react when your customer does you the favour of complaining?

The favour? Why not, it’s a marketing opportunity. A positive attitude to dealing with complaints shows that you are listening to your customers’ views, prepared to learn from mistakes and determined to improve your service.

Like all businesses that want to be successful, you would prefer not to have complaints since they are telling you that something is wrong. But if something is wrong, it’s better to know and have the opportunity to get it right. And no matter how good your business there will sometimes be a problem. How you deal with that situation – how you react to a complaint says a great deal more about you and your attitude to your customers than all the smiles you can muster when making the sale in the first place. It’s easy to be pleasant and attentive when everything is going well.

It’s not easy for customers to complain. Most bad service persists because they are so slow to do it. Sure there is always a minority of cranks who’ll complain about anything but for most people it’s uncomfortable. In a restaurant, you probably often just put up with a steak that is not cooked just right rather than make a fuss, and if you do decide to send it back you feel apologetic about it, almost as if it was your fault! Instead of staying mad people are really grateful when, instead of making a big deal about it, you act quickly and willingly to solve a problem, replace a faulty item, produce a better steak or whatever.

When you receive complaints, then, do you treat the information as valuable feedback? Free market research, what can be wrong with that? Although focussing a little on complaints here, this page is really about all feedback you receive, positive or negative. As your business grows, it’s a good idea to have a complaints/feedback system in place. Here are some of the things your system should be. Go through this checklist and examine your conscience – are there any respects in which you are failing to maximise the marketing opportunity that resides in effectively handling complaints and feedback.

A complaints/feedback system should be:

* Genuinely committed to.
This means that you formalise, write down and make available to customers your policy on dealing with complaints, making it clear that you accept the right of customers to give feedback and if necessary make complaints, asking for their help to enable you to provide a better product/service. That is so empowering for a customer, and so good for your business.

* Accessible.
It should be clear and easy to access and use. No bureaucracy, complicated forms, passing the problem around from one to another. Make it your policy that the first one to hear a complaint owns it and is responsible for getting it dealt with.

* Effective and Fair.
Sometimes it may not be clear who is at fault. So have a clear and fair investigation process for such cases. Since there’s no point in making a facility to complain available unless you can then effectively deal with the issues, so you need to resource the system adequately. People with responsibility to resolve complaints must have the authority and the means to do so.

* Geared to learning.
Recording, categorising and regularly reviewing the feedback received and putting in place the necessary measures to address the issues raised is crucial. The point of a complaints/feedback system is twofold – to give a professional customer service, and to learn how to give an even better one in the future.

Here are ten tips for dealing with complaints we found on a UK Cabinet Office Website on ‘SERVICE FIRST, the new charter programme’ :

1. Keep it simple – avoid long forms

2. Use the phone more – don’t automatically send a letter

3. Find out straight away what the person complaining wants you to do about the problem

4. For less serious complaints, a quick apology is better than a long letter.

5. Give personal and specific replies – a standard reply will only make things worse

6. Follow the ‘mother’ principle – treat people as you’d like your mother to be treated

7. Don’t pass the buck. If you do need to refer a customer to someone else, make sure you give the customer full details

8. be clear what remedies you can offer

9. Let your customers know about improvements made as a result of their complaints

10. And remember – more complaints can be good news! it shows that your customers trust you to take them seriously

If you have any complaints about Artefact Ltd, I would be happy to hear them!

Wil Lyons
Managing Director
Artefact Ltd