Category Archives: Customer complaints

I’ll have to get my manager

When you’re a customer and want to make a complaint the last thing you want to hear is “I’ll have to go and get my manager…”

Not only is it frustrating for you as the customer, it’s demeaning for the employee and time consuming of the manager.

This week I’ve been training line managers, giving them the skills and confidence to coach their own teams in how to handle customer complaints, so they can trust their team to handle them effectively.

This means customers get any complaints handled swiftly, team members feel empowered, and managers are freed up to get on with other things.

You can watch here to discover the 4 key areas we covered.

So what’s the process in your business when a customer has a complaint? Do your team have the skills and confidence to deal with complaints, and do their line managers have the skills and confidence to train, coach, and support them?

 


Who handles your customer complaints?

Coaching in Complaint Handling

When you’re a customer and want to make a complaint the last thing you want to hear is “I’ll have to go and get my manager…”

Not only is it frustrating for you as the customer, it’s demeaning for the employee and time consuming of the manager.

So what’s the process in your business when a customer has a complaint? Do your team have the skills and confidence to deal with complaints, and do their line managers have the skills and confidence to train, coach, and support them?



Learn from Mistakes

Here’s part 10 in my 12 blog series onWhy?

how to engage and motivate your team on their return from their Christmas break

10. Learn from Mistakes

In any business there are times when things don’t go according to plan or mishaps happen. Review some of the things that have not gone to plan over the past year.

Rather than dwelling on the negatives, reflect on what you and the team have learnt from these events. And ask how equipped are the team to deal with these situations if they happen again.

The more you can anticipate these and train your team in how to handle such situations the more confident they’ll be, and the more likely they’ll deal smoothly with anything else that gets thrown at them.

Even if you think it was a one off and unlikely to happen again your team might be aware of other ‘near misses’ or situations that are almost an accident waiting to happen!

So listen to your team and flush out any other potential risky situations. Then agree what steps you can take to avoid them or minimise their impact, so they are confident they will be better prepared next time!

Your goal is always to minimise the negative impact on the customer experience.

 

 

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Maybe the next time?

thumbs-upI love this little story I found in the paper the other day.

It demonstrates perfectly what can happen when you don’t set your expectations. Even with the most enthusiastic team, unless you give them customer service training explaining your own standards for handling customer complaints sadly even the best intentions might not quite meet your customer’s expectations.

This is what happened:

A couple complained about their meal at a cafe they visited for the first time. When they informed the smiling waitress that the beans were cold, the eggs were hard and the toast was burnt she replied cheerfully: “perhaps it will be better next time you come”.

Hmm, I somehow doubt there will be a next time!


Handling Complaints

question mark with speech bublesI’ve had a month of complaints! No, not in the way you might think… But helping a number of clients establish the best way to handle complaints, whether that be through staff training, gathering feedback to establish the cause or establishing systems to prevent them in the first place.

It seems counter intuitive, but as a business we should welcome complaints! WHY?

Because the alternative is we’re left not knowing when the customer isn’t happy.

Obviously prevention is better than cure (and you can read tips on prevention in a previous post right here).

But of course you’re not always able to pre-empt problems and won’t be able to avoid all complaints. Accidents happen, things get missed or events occur that are totally out of our control. So what can you do to lessen the impact on your customers’ experience and limit the potential damage to your customer relationships and your reputation?

Aim to spot problems as early as possible. Listen and observe. You can often sense there’s an issue long before you get told directly. And of course it’s far better to resolve a problem there and then than have a negative review posted on line.

Empower your team

Give your team the skills and authority to deal with complaints as they happen. Encourage them and train them how to ask for feedback and just as importantly how to respond when they get complaints or negative feedback.

This is far better for the customer because it gets a quicker solution, far better for the team member because they’re able to deal with it which gives them pride, and far better for you because it means you don’t have to always been involved. This doesn’t mean to say that don’t want to hear about complaints particularly if there are common recurring problems that need to be resolved.

Don’t assume because you’ve told people how to do something they will be able to just go out and deliver it consistently.  It’s all very well knowing what to say, but you know how sometimes when you come to say something the words just don’t trip off the tongue as you might hope!  Let your team practise in a safe environment, based on different scenarios.

Agree with them their levels of authority so they know just how much leeway they have in offering the customer/guest compensation, and at what point they may need to involve a manager.

Observe how your staff handle complaints and give them feedback after the event on what they did well, what they could do more of, and give the appropriate support and guidance on areas where they need more help.

It’s all too easy when we hear of a complaint to blame someone in the team for the problem. Put the team first and they’ll reward you with avoiding problems.

 

Here’s a little 5 stage checklist you may find useful in customer service training on handling a complaint effectively irrespective of the cause.

I use this structure when training and together these form the acronym LEARN which is easy for team member to remember.

The way you handle the situation is what your customers will remember and if you can go above and beyond to resolve the problem, even when it’s down to a third party, customer error or even an act of God, it’s your resolve of the situation they’ll remember, not the cause.


Learn from Complaints

Here’s a little 5 stage checklist you may find useful in handling a complaint effectively irrespective of the cause:

  • Listen
  • Empathise
  • Agree on an acceptable solution
  • Resolve the problem
  • Next steps

Let’s look at each stage in more detail

Listen

It can be easy to get defensive when you receive feedback, particularly when you feel it is not justified or you totally disagree with it.

But something must have triggered their perception.  So listen to what your customer is saying.

Listen without interrupting to allow the customer to get it off their chest. Whilst listening think about your reaction; your body language, facial expressions or tone might all give negative messages back to the customer.

Getting irritated or angry you will only make the situation worse. It may be the 100th time you’ve heard this complaint, but your customer does not know this, so be patient as you listen. Stay calm, maintain eye contact and listen. Ask more questions if you need to in order to clarify. Focus on facts, but look to understand how they feel too.

It is useful to reflect back to the customer your understanding of the issue. Summarising their points using their words can show you’ve understood correctly, and it reassures the customer you have all the facts.

Maybe the problem was caused by the customer, but never accuse. This only makes the problem worse. No; the customer isn’t always right, but your goal should be to leave the customer positive and wanting to do business with you again; not to embarrass them, teach them a lesson or score points.

Show Empathy

Acknowledge and show you understand how the customer feels and show your concern, even if it’s not your fault.

The least you can do is to apologise (even if you’re just apologising that they feel that way).

Try to look at the situation from their perspective:

  • they might be frustrated because they’ve had a wasted journey
  • they may be disappointed for their child who can’t get what was promised for their birthday treat
  • they might be angry they’ve spent a lot of money on something that has not lived up to their expectation
  • they might be embarrassed as their special treat for a loved one has been a disappointment
  • they might be feeling anxious because they don’t yet have everything they need for an important meeting or event

Put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you might feel in their situation. Your tone of voice is very important when responding. If you are overly calm you may come across as not being concerned or even patronising.

If you are in the wrong, be bold, and own up. Your customers will thank you for being honest and this all helps to keep the trust.

The very last thing to do is make excuses. Frankly your customers don’t care about your staff shortages, that your suppliers have let you down, that the ‘x’ machine is broken, your company policy, or that no one else has complained. Nor are they interested in hearing “that’s nothing to do with us; it’s down to the organisers / council / landlord….etc.”

Irrespective of whose fault it is your aim should always be to do what you can to have the customer go away happy.

Agree an acceptable solution

Getting it off their chest might be all a customer wants and a simple apology is all that’s needed.

But others will be seeking a resolution. So focus on looking for potential solutions.

It’s important to strike a balance between being positive but showing concern. Use positive language that demonstrates your desire to resolve it. Such as: “Let’s see what we can sort out for you.”  “I’m sure we can get this sorted.”  “If I do ___ would that be acceptable?”

Resolve

Of course, having agreed a resolution do what you say you’ll do. If you can resolve the problem there and then (which is always preferable) do a check back to ensure the customer is now happy. If it is something that can’t be resolved now, or the action will need a follow up, confirm when this will happen and who will do this.

Find ways you can go the extra mile to compensate in some way for their inconvenience.

Next steps

You obviously want to avoid a recurrence of the issue, so take whatever steps are needed to resolve the same thing happening again.

And the final stage is to get reassure customers by showing how you are going to avoid the problem in future, so you can re-establish trust. A customer is unlikely to want to come back if they think they are going to encounter the same problem next time.

I use this structure when training and together these form the acronym LEARN which is easy for team members to remember.



Empower your team to handle complaints

Complaints Concept. Word on Folder Register of Card Index. Selective Focus.

When conducting customer service training include complaint handling.

Getting feedback from your customers is essential to gauge whether or not what you offering is right for your target audience. Whether it’s positive or negative and whether you agree with it or not is key to your success.

But so many team members shy away from any feedback in case they hear something that they can’t deal with, or that reflects badly on them.

Of course, not being able to deal with it is frustrating, not only for the customer but also for the employee, and ultimately for you if you get called in each and every time there’s a complaint.

So as well as training your team in how to manage service when all’s going smoothly and to plan teach them to deal with the ‘what if’ situations, i.e. how to deal with things when they go wrong.

This includes giving them the skills and authority to deal with complaints as they happen. Encourage them and train them how to ask for feedback and just as importantly how to respond when they get complaints or negative feedback.

This is far better for the customer because it gets a quicker solution, far better for the team member because they’re able to deal with it, which gives them pride, and far better for you because it means you don’t have to always been involved. This doesn’t mean to say that don’t want to hear about complaints particularly if there are common recurring problems that need to be resolved.

Don’t assume because you’ve told people how to do something they will be able to just go out and deliver it consistently. It’s all very well knowing what to say, but you know how sometimes when you come to say something the words just don’t trip off the tongue as you might hope! Let your team practise in a safe environment, based on different scenarios.

Agree with them their levels of authority so they know just how much leeway they have in offering the customer/guest compensation, and at what point they may need to involve a manager.

Observe how your staff handle complaints and give them feedback after the event on what they did well, what they could do more of, and give the appropriate support and guidance on areas where they need more help.

If you adopt a culture of it’s okay to make a mistake as long as you learn from it, your team will be far more confident to, not only deal with complaints, but also feedback so everybody learns, and ultimately of course to prevent the same problems happening again.

 



Damage Limitation

Even with the best will in the world sometimes there are things that go wrong; accidents happen, things get missed or events occur that are totally out of your control. So what can we be doing the lessen the impact on our customers’ experience and limit the potential damage to our reputation?

Prevention is better than cure

In a perfect world we’d prevent complaints happening. And certainly we can minimise the number of complaints by taking a few simple actions.

Firstly customers are far more understanding of the situation if they all kept informed or forewarned of any problems. For example, if you know that you’re likely to be busy at certain times of the day, make every effort to let your customers know this. If you let them know when the quieter times are, this not only helps them, it evens out the peaks and troughs for you too.

When you know something is unavailable; maybe something that is a popular feature or product that is not available for whatever reason, give people as much notice as possible either through your website, when booking if relevant, prior to travel or on arrival to minimise disappointment.

The key here is to offer choice and alternatives. This might be a great opportunity to introduce your customers to something they haven’t tried before, or something that could be classed as an ‘upgrade’ (at no additional cost to them, of course). This way they’re introduced to something new, which is good for you, and they get to experience something over and above what they were expecting, so enhances their value for money. A win-win.

Make use of waiting timequeue

We’ve all experienced being put on hold and told how “your call is important to us”. Unfortunately it doesn’t make us feel any better! Queues and being kept waiting are never going to be popular with your customers. But do what you can to minimise the impact. For example if you know when your peak times are adjust your staffing accordingly (ensuring appropriate training is given to anyone who is redeployed to ‘help out’).

For example: hotel checkout at peak times in the morning; you may not have enough terminals to have more people actually doing the checkout, you can at least have people on hand to deal with any queries, printing out bills and so forth. If you have self-service areas, or payment machines, help speed up the process by helping customers; you can avoid the time it takes them to read instructions, which might reduce your transaction time by half, thus reducing queues.

Use customer waiting time as an opportunity to share information, which might speed things up later on. For example, if diners are waiting for a table, give them a menu beforehand so they can be choosing whilst queuing. If queuing to enter an attraction, have information available on the layout, so once inside your visitors have already planned their itinerary.

You can even use the time to entertain, so customers don’t feel put out at all. But, I’m not suggesting anything like the awful music we often get subjected to when we are put on hold, or worse still the sales pitch we get. No, I’m talking about genuine entertainment!

Make waiting time a pleasurable experience by offering your customers something to compensate for their wait. In a hotel or restaurant this might be afternoon tea or a free cocktail, at an attraction or venue this might be a free programme or guide as a thank you for waiting, in a florist or gift shop this might be free gift wrap. And if you’re now subconsciously thinking you couldn’t afford to do this every time someone has to wait; it’s time you reviewed your customer experience. Waiting should be the exception, not the norm. (And compare this investment to the cost of losing the customer altogether.)

And if people have been kept patiently waiting for even a few moments, at the very least acknowledge this and thank them for their patience.

 

When the chips are down

But of course you’re not always will be able to avoid all complaints. And on occasions we’ll get complaints about things which are totally out of our control anyway.

Most customers accept that things can go wrong from time to time. But only if they’re kept informed.

For example:

If something they’ve asked for is no longer available; will be it be available later or not at all. What’s the alternative? What can you offer that might be as good as or even better.

If there is a delay, does the customer wait, or do they do / have something that doesn’t involve waiting? Well, that might depend on just how long they have to wait. When we are put on hold if we’re told we are 2nd in the queue we are far more likely to hang on than if we’re told we are 10th. So let you customers know – is it expected to be a 2 minutes wait or half an hour? Being honest (and not making false promises and under estimating) allows to customer to make an informed decision.

 

Explanations not excuses

Being kept informed is not about making excuses!  It’s about keeping the customer informed of the situation and giving them options…

However there may be times when a little explanation helps diffuse the situation. If there’s been an accident, if it would be unsafe, if their preferred option is not up to standard and likely to disappoint. If it’s relevant to help them see why they’re not getting the experience they’d hoped tell them; if not, don’t! Customers really aren’t interested in your staff shortages or that your suppliers have let you down or that the ‘x’ machine is broken.

 

And despite our best efforts they’ll be times when all they are interested in is having their say and having someone listen to them, and an opportunity to let off steam.

Better they do that to us than on TripAdvisor!

 

So in summary to make the best of a bad situation and minimise the negative emotions and potential back flak from customers

  • Let customers know at the earliest opportunity when there may be a problem that might impact them, so they can make a decision on whether to wait or risk it, or whether to change or cancel their choice.
  • Let them know when what you’ve promised can’t be delivered so they can plan accordingly
  • Offer an alternative or give the customer a number of options
  • Offer something by way of a reasonable compensation to show you appreciate their patience or inconvenience
  • And most of all, admit to any mistakes on your part. Don’t be too proud to apologise.

 

Your customers will appreciate your honesty and this all helps to keep the trust and relationship sweet, so your customers remain loyal.


Do you dread reading your online reviews?

Love them or hate them, online reviews do get read and will influence prospective customers. Sadly statistically people are more likely to be prompted to post a review if they’ve a bad experience than when they’ve had a good one. So aim to redress this balance, by encouraging as many of your guests as possible to post reviews, so you get the good ones as well as (hopefully only occasional) bad ones.

Display your confidence by encouraging your guests and website visitors to link to TripAdvisor. One of the easiest things you could do is to put a link from your website, and on your post stay e-mails, and prompt people who have enjoyed their stay to post a review.

It’s considered unethical to offer incentives, such as room discounts, in exchange for positive reviews. But the least you can do is show people you appreciate the feedback (good or bad) by responding quickly to the feedback you receive. Register with TripAdvisor so that you can monitor your reviews by receiving notification. A quick thank you in acknowledgement might be all you need for a positive review or feedback.

With negative feedback it’s important to show that you have looked into the situation and taken things on board. Feedback that you feel is unjustified can be frustrating, but the way in which you handle this will reflect on your professionalism and reputation, so deal with it in a constructive way. By asking them to phone you provides an opportunity for you to get more detail and having a better chance of resolving the situation.

Don’t be too concerned about the occasional negative comment. This demonstrates authenticity of the content and in some cases can actually help to highlight the type of hotel you are. For example, if you have a comment that the hotel is not child friendly, this may be seen as a positive for some potential guests.

Watch out too for feedback through Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites so you can respond accordingly.

Caroline Cooper

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