I wish to make a complaint! Whether you are running a pet shop or a billion-dollar service industry, your reaction will probably be to hurry into the back room and hope someone else will handle things. By Jennifer Denham
Many businesses and staff complain about customer complaints. The most common perceptions of the process are:
- Complaints are an inconvenience and a waste of time.
- Complaints are signs of failure.
- If complaints are encouraged they will increase.
- Staff are not trained to handle complaints and tend to discourage them.
- Complaints add to the workload.
- Complaints handling is a high-cost exercise.
- Complaints are threats to business success and reputation.
- Complaints are directed against the individual rather than against the business.
However, there are benefits in customer complaints if you deal with them wisely. You can make them the avenue for improving your service.
WIIFM What’s in it for me?
The benefits of good complaint-handling:
- Savings in time and money in the long run by preventing the escalation of the complaint.
- An boost for the reputation of the business customers who have their problems solved tend to become more loyal.
- Identification of problems by tracking the pattern of complaints.
- A second chance for the business to satisfy an unhappy customer. There is a saying that 80% of business comes from 20% of customers; thus effective handling of complaints can contribute to repeat business as well as customer satisfaction.
- An improved understanding of customer needs and expectations, which can contribute to increased sales and market share and can help the business to maintain a competitive edge. Complaints thus become a relatively inexpensive form of market research.
Resolving complaints quickly and efficiently can save time and money. Research shows that resolving complaints on first contact can cut costs in half. Poor service and poor customer communication can increase the workload of staff by up to one-third. Resolving complaints quickly saves staff work in the long run.
Consequences of failure
Businesses that acknowledge the benefits of effective complaints-handling will often describe a customer complaint as a gift, an opportunity, a favor and even “the best thing that could happen to a business because the alternative is so much worse”.
However, customers desert the business that fails in the handling of complaints. The business misses a chance to win them back (a chance they have offered), it loses profits and sales, and it misses an opportunity to learn from mistakes and give service levels a lift.
Table of discontents
The following summarises negative and positive attitudes in handling customer complaints.
- No complaints means all is well.
- We worry if we get no complaints.
- Punish the customer for complaining.
- Thank the customer for complaining.
- It is the customer’s fault.
- Take responsibility for the error.
- Complaint is a nuisance.
- Complaint is an opportunity.
- Complaint is failure.
- Complaint is an indication of the need for improvement.
- Customer has no right to complain.
- We want the customer to complain.
- Customer is interrogated to justify the complaint.
- Complaint accepted and acknowledged.
- Complaints are trivial and unimportant.
- All complaints are important.
- Management handles complaints.
- All staff are responsible for complaint handling.
- Discourage complaints.
- Encourage complaints.
- Strict adherence to policies.
- Flexible approach.
- If customers complain, assume they will not return.
- When customers complain they offer a chance to win them back. A quick resolution will help to retain the custom.
Examen of conscience
Some questions to ask about your business’s attitudes to customer complaints:
- Does your business turn customer complaints into opportunities?
- Is there a process known to all employees for acting on customer complaints and focusing on their solution?
- Are complaints received in all areas of your business, or are they treated as relevant only to the sales and customer-service departments?
- Do you reward customers and staff for discovering new problems and complaints?
- Does your business anticipate customer problems? Do you make your customers aware of possible problems before they discover these problems for themselves?
Adapted from Handling Customer Complaints: Turning Challenges into Opportunities
How not to
A primer on letting go
A little incompetence goes a long way, whether in the office, the board room or the HR department
How not to send a fax
1st Person: Do you know anything about this fax-machine?
2nd Person: A little. What’s wrong?
1st Person: Well, I sent a fax, and the recipient called back to say all she received was a cover-sheet and a blank page. I tried it again, and the same thing happened.
2nd Person: How did you load it?
1st Person: It’s a pretty sensitive memo, and I didn’t want anyone else to read it by accident, so I folded it so only the recipient would open it.
How not to use a computer
Tech Support: What does the screen say?
Person: It says: “Hit ENTER when ready.”
Tech Support: Well?
Person: How do I know when it’s ready?
How not to be a secretary
Some time ago, a certain admin assistant, who was none too fast, was doing some typing and turned to a secretary and said, “I’m almost out of typing paper. What do I do?”
“Just use copier paper,” she told him.
With that, the intern took his last remaining blank piece of paper, put it on the photocopier and proceeded to make five blank copies.
How not to get to the point
One day a computer technician was working at the help desk and got a call from one of the computer operators. She asked if anything “bad” would happen if she dropped coins into the openings of her PC. He asked her if this was something she was thinking of doing. She said, “Never mind,” and hung up.
The technician got out his trusty toolkit and paid her a visit. When he opened her CPU case, sure enough, there was 40.
How not to use consultants
According to authors James O Shea and Charles Madigan in Dangerous Company, between 1989 and 1994, Figgie International racked up more than $US75 million in fees to some of America’s most prestigious management consulting firms. “The consultants produced high-priced studies and impressive reports about world-class manufacturing, one of those buzzwords that captured corporate imaginations. Instead of a world-class operation, though, Figgie would get a high-priced mess. A lifetime of hard work would unravel before his eyes as the company Figgie cherished became a tale of consultants run amok.
Eventually, Figgie would flirt with bankruptcy, its workforce would plunge into chaos, and its balance sheet would drown in red ink. Thousands of Figgie employees would lose their jobs in a wretched downsizing that would leave the company nearly prostrate.”
How not to answer the phone
A customer called a company and asked to speak to Bob. The receptionist answered: “Bob’s on vacation. Will you hold?”
How not to read a memo
A director of communications for a food-chain company was asked to prepare a memo reviewing the company’s training programs and materials. The memo mentioned the “pedagogical approach” of one of the training manuals. The next day the memo went to the executive committee. The communications director was called into the HR director’s office and was told that the executive vice-president wanted him out of the building by lunch. When he asked why, he was told that the executive vice-president would not stand for “perverts” (pedophiles?) in her company. Finally the HR director showed him the copy of the memo with the word “pedagogical” circled in red. The HR manager was fairly reasonable once he had looked the word up in the dictionary, and made a copy of the definition to send back to the executive vice-president. The communications director was told not to worry, it would be taken care of.
Two days later a memo to the entire staff came out directing that no word that could not be found in the local Sunday newspaper was to be used in company memos. A month later, the communications director resigned. In accordance with company policy, he created the resignation memo by pasting words together from the Sunday paper.