Tips for handling customer complaints

In every small business, problems can arise between businesses, their customers, suppliers, partners and employees. Most can be resolved quickly and efficiently with a common sense approach. When dealing with customers, it's likely from time to time that you will receive a customer compliant about a product or service your business provides.

Customer complaints are usually considered a bad thing, but, if handled correctly, they can present an opportunity for you to turn a negative situation into a positive one.

Tips for handling customer complaints gracefully

  • Have a clear procedure for handling customer complaints including negotiating face to face in a calm and professional manner. Your documented customer complaints procedure needs to be accessible, easy to understand and use by yourself and employees. You need to practice the procedure with your staff so they feel comfortable when applying it. Having well-trained staff can be the difference between inflaming or soothing a situation. Visit Training for more information on skilling up your staff.
  • Keep a record of all promises, agreements and undertakings you have with your customers. Clear, documented communication means you can refer back to it as a source of truth and avoid misunderstandings.
  • Ask the customer if they can provide documentary evidence to help you verify the facts. Make sure you the documented procedures in your business include the process for returning products. Your business will be bound by the Consumer Law, but it's also important to develop your own internal procedures, to make returning goods more efficient. This could mean authorising more staff to approve returns, documenting returns in a designated place or educating staff on consumer rights. If your customers have a poor experience trying to return a product, or they are treated badly by your staff, they are unlikely to return, so it's important to get it right.
  • Understand your legal obligations. Ensure that your business complies with the relevant laws and regulations with regards to products, pricing, refunds and warranties. Read Fair trading for more information.
  • Listen to your customers (put yourself in their shoes) and make a note of feedback received. Taking the time to follow up on all the feedback you receive is another great way to improve your customer service. Your customers will appreciate it if they can see you have acted on their feedback, or addressed it in some way.

Remember that only a handful of customers will complain to you. Most customers just choose not to return to your business. If you make it easier for customers to complain (e.g. anonymous feedback forms, a dedicated place on your website) then people might be more inclined to let you know about their experiences. You can then fix the issue before it becomes a problem for more customers.

Mitigate problems or mistakes

Taking steps to mitigate problems before they occur can help your business be more efficient and innovative. Ask your staff to help you create strategies to mitigate some of the common problems in the workplace. For example, what happens if:

  • We're short staffed?
  • The customer is still angry after we've apologised?
  • The order went missing, or never arrived?
  • There is a breakdown in technology?
  • The customer hasn't paid their invoice?
  • A customer bad mouths your business online?

By working out and documenting some solid strategies to mitigate common business problems, you can save yourself time, and perhaps your business' reputation. It is important staff are aware and trained in these strategies to help them migrate these problems or mistakes in your absence.

Explore what is customer service to find out how to priortise excellent customer service.

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