Are your team confident to handle complaints?
Last week I met up with a friend in my favourite local coffee shop. Being the school holidays they were busier than normal, and we both expected that, and it was fine.
What wasn’t fine was that the usual smiling, happy and efficient service was gone, and the normally delicious coffee was lukewarm when it finally arrived.
I know I talk a lot about consistency. And at a time of year when you’re busier than normal it’s just as important as it is at any other time of year.
Just because you’re busy or you have temporary staff, don’t let this be an excuse for a poor customer experience or inferior customer service. Your regulars don’t care! Busy or not, whether it’s the school holidays and you’re rushed off your feet, or half your team are taking time off, your customers expect consistency.
And if you’re welcoming new customers through the door (which was the case for my friend), naturally you want them to get a great first impression.
But, it’s inevitable from time to time you’re going to get unhappy customers, and when you do your team need to be prepared.
In this instance when I commented on the poor coffees they were replaced instantly. But I’m sure you – like me – can think of instances when you’ve made a complaint and been told,
“I’m not able to do that; you’ll have to ask a manager…”
Not only is it frustrating for you as the customer, it’s demeaning for the employee and time consuming for the manager.
What’s the process in your business when a customer has a complaint? Do customers have to ask a manager, or do your team have the skills and confidence to handle complaints, and do their line managers have the skills and confidence to train, coach, and support them, so they can trust their team to handle complaints effectively?
Here are 5 prime consideration for line managers to get to a point where they (and you) can feel confident that anyone in your team can handle complaints positively and professionally, leaving the customer feeling cared for and remain loyal to your business.
It’s easy for team members to feel nervous about receiving complaints and get defensive when they’re on the receiving end. Encourage team members to think of complaints as a positive thing, as it gives an opportunity to put things right and turn the situation around before the customer leaves.
It’s not uncommon for people to think about the outcome as being a win-lose situation. Instead, encourage team members to look for a win-win, where the customer leaves happy, and we are confident we have retained that customer for the future.
2. Core Skills
Having core interpersonal skills has to be a prerequisite for anyone who is going to deal with customers at any time, but when it comes to how they handle complaints these skills are even more important. Being a good listener, having the skill to ask good questions to understand the customer, the ability to build rapport and have empathy with the customer.
(See 38 Training Exercise & Activities to Engage, Energise and Excite your Team in Customer Service for ways to hone these skills)
Team members need to be clear on their levels of authority; give them examples of when they need to refer to a manager or get sign off, and when it’s OK for them to make the decision.
On the occasions when you or another manager has to get involved use this as an opportunity for others to learn from the situation, by explaining your approach and why you approached it in the way you did.
Knowledge also extends to the knowledge of your products and services, so it’s easier for them to offer alternatives to the customer. Thinking back to the win-win, looking for solutions and/or alternatives which are of high value for the customer and relatively low investment for us.
The great thing about getting a complaint is that you have an opportunity to put things right. But, it’s also important to learn from that complaint, so you prevent a recurrence (even if the complaint was purely a misunderstanding on the customer’s part – what led to their understanding or perception, and how do you avoid that perspective in future).
Ensure you have systems and processes in place to feedback on complaints and follow-up to prevent re-occurrence, and every team member understands the system.
With the best will in the world, your complaint handling training can’t cover every conceivable possibility. Allow your team members to practice, get feedback and coaching on how they handle complaints, and learn from everybody else’s experiences. Listen out for hesitation; when you hear a team member saying “I can’t…” that might be an indication they are fearful of making a mistake. Talk this through with them to identify any obstacles.
Build confidence; often people know what they should be doing, but just lack that certainty and confidence to do this really well, so give time and an opportunity for them to practise in a safe environment.
If you only do one thing – Encourage team members to be receptive to any customer feedback and think of the opportunity to handle complaints as a positive thing, and an opportunity to put things right.