In whatever industry, no matter how hard you try, client complaints can’t always be avoided. But, how you respond to them can make all the difference. Handled positively and effectively, a complaint can be used to build a client relationship – instead of being a reason to end it.
Depending on the type of business or service you’re in, complaints can vary from simple dissatisfaction which is quickly resolved to more serious complaints that require far more time and careful handling. Quickly identifying the type of complaint is key to adopting the right approach for dealing with it.
Let’s look at a few complaint examples and some positive ways to handle them successfully:
“I was promised a range of design services but your company hasn’t delivered!”
Marc, the design company’s sales consultant knows from experience that the most challenging complaints are the ones about promises that are not or cannot be kept. He realises the urgency of the client’s complaint and immediately flags his manager. Attempting to respond as quickly as possible, it is agreed that Marc makes an apology and offers an explanation.
However, this approach doesn’t satisfy the client, so Marc’s manager, Ben steps in. Clearly understanding the situation, he acknowledges the client’s problem, demonstrates a real willingness to resolve the issue and talks to the client about their expectations. Ben knows it’s important to find out first whether what they expect is realistic and in line with his consultancy’s offering. He works closely with the client and agrees on a way forward with them which leads to another contract.
Learning from the situation, Ben also makes it clear to his staff that when they promise something to clients in order to build a relationship or to respond to a complaint, that it is essential to make sure that they deliver on their promises.
“Our IT system has been down for hours but as our IT providers you just don’t seem to care.”
The responsible IT consultant, Jon, knows that his company cares and quickly tries to find a solution. Instead of jumping on the defensive, he turns the situation around by not underplaying the complaint. Aware that complaints are often more emotional than rational, he listens attentively and empathises with the client.
Jon shows that he understands the client’s dilemma and expresses his regret for the inconvenience. He emphasises that their issue is a priority for his IT team but clearly explains the challenges involved in solving it. Moving forward, Jon gets the client’s input and support along the way and provides regular progress updates. The client feels well-cared for and this strengthens the business relationship both in the short and long term.
“Your HR consultancy didn’t deliver results in one of the countries in which we operate.”
As the account manager for the consultancy, Riek’s first instinct is to defend their services. Instead he takes a step back and decides to look closely at the situation first. This leads him to address the client’s complaint from a different angle with a ‘bigger picture’ perspective.
Riek points out that the consultancy collaborates with the client in seven countries and that, based on feedback and monitoring, their services always delivered positive results. Hearing this, the client reveals that it is actually only one unhappy colleague who is complaining. Riek’s well thought out approach successfully creates a platform for developing a specific solution with his client for the one country, based on the strengths of his consultancy’s services and the good long-term relationship.
“Our raw material order is overdue and instead of receiving an answer, I keep getting transferred from person to person.”
Michelle, the purchasing manager, understands that all customers want their complaints addressed in a straight-forward way without having to ‘fight’ for results. She puts herself in her customer’s shoes and most importantly, she takes ownership of the situation.
Although not every complaint can be resolved immediately, Michelle handles the complaint swiftly and proactively. She ensures that the customer can see her commitment to finding answers for them. So that the customer isn’t forced to check up on progress themselves but can plan their production successfully, she provides frequent updates. Michelle’s approach helps to re-establish the customer’s trust in her company.
Keeping negativity out of the picture
Dealing with complaints can be demoralising. Whereas compliments can make you feel taller, complaints are actually an opportunity to grow as well. Customer complaints should always get your immediate attention. Whether right or wrong, by adopting a positive, proactive approach you can nudge out the negativity. Making it clear that you’re making an effort to remedy something that’s gone wrong is a sign of great customer service. Combining this with accountability is refreshing in a strained relationship and can result in a good outcome for both sides.
• A complaint is an expression of a need. So focus on determining what the client needs
and how you can help to address it.
• Listen carefully and acknowledge, and only then start to find a solution.
• Put the client and the solution first, and have one point of contact.
This article is based on the input of Krauthammer consultants Léon de Vries, Marco van Barneveld, Thijs Westerkamp and Jos Velthuis.