Staying Professional in the Face of Customer Complaints

“When a customer is upset, remember that you’re dealing with a person, not a problem.” – Marilyn Suttle

Anyone running business would know that keeping customers happy is no mean task. In fact, there would hardly ever be a time when a business would have all happy customers. Unhappy customers mean complaints – inevitably. However, it is crucial for everyone within the company to stay professional in the face of customer complaints – irrespective of whether the complaint is justified or not. The process of dealing with complaints needs to be streamlined such that every complaint is not only acknowledged, but also dealt with in the most effective and speedy manner. It is never acceptable to ignore or dismiss customer complaints – doing so only makes them angrier and such customers can heap disaster on a business, since ignoring them, makes them feel unimportant and devalued. What companies must understand is that customer complaints are really a form of feedback – even though critical. Research and data proves that at least 95% of customers that complain are actually willing to afford another opportunity to the company to make things right and keep them as customers.

Staying professional in the face of customer complaints means, that a company has the right attitude towards customer service. Those companies, that view complaints handling as onerous, a waste of time, or a process that does not require effort or a structure, would most definitely have a lot of difficulty in keeping their customers. There are many times when companies solicit feedback from customers, to no avail. Staying professional in the face of customer complaints would mean that everyone in the company understands that they are in fact ‘free advice’ and feedback and must be used to remove the inadequacies pointed out. Customer complaints are an invaluable source of knowledge and information – statistics prove that most often companies remain blissfully unaware of how customers feel and actually believe that they are doing a good job, keeping customers happy. Complaints then are those revelations and ‘welcome to reality’ situations for a company – and those that use them prudently would see accelerated growth and more profitability.

Customers – irrespective of the size of their business, are a harried lot and have lots on their mind and ‘plate’ to take time out to complain or provide feedback. Providing feedback, even as a complaint, takes time and effort and if a customer has made that effort, it is worth any company’s time to take cognizance and act. Customers are unlikely to comment just for the sake of doing so or because they are out to be rude. Something about your company or some experience with it would be the cause for their complaint and their complaint is simply a way to bring it to the attention of those who matter within the company. Staying professional in the face of customer complaints would mean therefore, that a company uses the complaint to develop a more efficient and robust system that would help eliminate the problems for good and in a speedy manner.

It may seem surprising, but many companies still fumble and get flustered when customers complain. They immediately make the mistake of reacting and countering the complaint with an explanation. This is the worst method to handle complaints and tells customers that your company is unprofessional and unable to receive or deal with feedback. It is best for a company to first acknowledge the complaint, apologize for the inconvenience, and then request the customer to discuss it with them openly in order to understand the reasons for the unpleasant experience. It is possible that the complaint may be a case of misunderstanding and or came about due to the improper use of a product or service from the company. Even if the problem may have arisen because of the fault of the customer, it would be extremely crucial to stay professional and not put the customer down. Whatever be the reason for the problem, it would be necessary for the company to provide complete attention to the customer and listen to everything they have to say. Under no circumstance is it acceptable to be rude, inattentive, argumentative, and apathetic towards customers or their grievance – your company could end up with a bigger, more ‘visible’, and exacerbated problem than before.

The other mistake and one that is contrary to staying professional in the face of customer complaints, is forgetting that while your company may deal with similar complaints regularly, for customers their complaint is unique and important. Dealing with customer complaints as ‘run of the mill’ and usual, could display your company’s apathy and disinterest in their ‘distinct’ problem. Showing professionalism while dealing with customer complaints is about giving each complaint due importance and treating the ‘complainant’ with respect and dignity. It is never acceptable to shout at or argue with a customer but instead they must be given as much time as they need to vent and describe their problem. The service teams must be highly trained so that they can ask open-ended questions that not only allow customers to provide complete details, but also exhibit care and concern. As much information as can be solicited from the anguished customer would help to understand and resolve the problem quickly and more efficiently. Assuming that you know the nature of the customer’s complaint can actually lead to more problems and end up with the customer moving from being frustrated to vengeful, which in turn leads to negative comments via social media and spreading negativity about your company on a wide scale.

The next part of staying professional in the face of customer complaints is ensuring that an effective solution is found quickly. Taking responsibility of the situation and doing everything possible to placate the customer, works very well in calming the irate customer. The fact is customers need to know that they have been heard and that the company will not offer excuses and reasons but find workable and effective solutions to the problem. It would be a great idea to involve the customer in the ‘solution finding’ process – this makes them feel valued and important, and assures them that the company is interested in providing them with the best. Such an attitude of service would calm even the most irate customer, making them more amenable to listening to what the company has to say and offer. In situations, where the customer may have suffered losses or faced immense inconvenience because of the fault of the company, it would be a good idea to provide compensation in the form of discounts, gift cards / vouchers, or some other form of monetary benefits.

The better a company is at dealing with and keeping a professional attitude in the face of customer complaints, the easier it would be for customers to stay and provide repeat business. Every company must necessarily have an exigent plan in place to deal with sudden and unexpected customer complaints. As mentioned, very often a company may believe that all is well with all its customers, and a forceful complaint could throw it off-guard unless it has an emergency ‘response plan’ in place. An irate customer is unlikely to get happy if they are made to wait for a response and solution, and the situation could quickly escalate against the company. It is extremely hard for any company to recover from negative comments and the resultant loss in business and customers. It would be prudent to weave into the business framework a plan that helps counter customer complaints with ease and efficiency.

The reason that staying professional in the face of customer complaints is so critical is that no business can claim ‘freedom’ from customer problems and grievances. Irrespective of size, stature, and industry within which a business operates, problems with customers are inevitable. It would therefore be prudent to accept this fact, put in place a robust strategy for dealing with the complaints, and in doing so change some of the biggest challenges of a business to something that will help it grow sustainably.

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