Top customer service strategies – No.6 Welcoming complaints


Paul continues with his brilliantly received Customer Service Strategies. Last month he covered ‘Listening to your customers and staff’, this month he looks at welcoming customer complaints.

When I first started making presentations on this subject some 14 years ago, this was seen as a counter-intuitive statement by many, and most organisations were somewhat ashamed of their complaints – which were often many – and certainly didn’t go out of their way to “welcome” them from customers.

However, there has been a big change in the market since then.

Remember, complaints are usually unsolicited, from customers who don’t have to give you their free advice, who don’t have to take time out to let you know their views, and who (usually) do it to give you the chance to improve.

Of course, there are always those who do it to gain some form of compensation, but research has shown that this is a very small minority indeed.

Research has also consistently shown that, if a customer complains and the organisation handles that complaint brilliantly, the customer, in the main, actually becomes even more loyal than one who has never complained.

Don’t make the same mistake twice

This is not to say, of course, that one should “screw up” deliberately, but one should ALWAYS give complaints a high priority. The crime is not making a mistake – we are all human – the crime is making the same mistake twice!

In fact, in Professor Bob Johnson’s (Warwick Business School) Breakthrough Research reports “Service Excellence = Reputation = Profit”, and  “Delivering Service Excellence: The View from the Front Line” there are some good pointers to service excellence.

He has clearly demonstrated that what makes excellent service “excellent” and poor service “poor” is more about how organisations deal with problems and complaints than any other single factor.

So, there are real benefits in handling complaints well:

  • Nearly all customers would recommend a company to their friends if a complaint has been resolved efficiently.
  • However, four out of five customers would spread the word if a complaint had been handled badly (and even more now with social media to hand).
  • Despite the rise in complaints, only one in four employees feel qualified to deal with them.
  • Only one in three customer-facing staff are actually trained to deal with angry customers.
  • Most customers would pay more for excellent service.

So how does an organisation treat this seriously? There are two interlinked process needs – strategic and operational:

Strategic Plan

  • Have a clear, flexible, welcoming and open policy on complaints
  • Train staff and management in complaints handling
  • Give complaining enough priority and authority
  • Ensure that you can process complaints from all sources – in person, by telephone, by mail, by email/internet/text
  • Set up processes to log and analyse complaints and share with everyone

Operational Process and Actions

  • Thank the customer for complaining
  • Say that you are sorry that the problem has happened (this is NOT an admission of guilt on your part, it’s just good manners)
  • Put yourself in the place of the customer (complaints are rarely personal)
  • Start with the view that the customer has a valid point
  • Get all the facts first (listen carefully)
  • Don’t leap straight to the “free gift route”
  • Correct the mistake
  • Learn from every complaint
  • Minimise reasons for complaints
  • Remember, it cost at least 5 times as much to gain a new customer than keep an existing one (so focus on the customer, not the complaint)
  • ALWAYS respond
  • Listen to staff
  • Lead by example

Benefits of Good Complaints Handling

To Organisation

  • Improved image/reputation
  • Increased profitability
  • Customer loyalty
  • Fewer customer “drop-outs”
  • Increased market share
  • A more realistic idea of customer satisfaction
  • Customers can be MORE satisfied after recovery
  • More complaints to help you improve
  • Improved awareness of harmfulness of customer dissatisfaction
  • Improved awareness of importance of handling complaints effectively
  • Improved awareness of importance of keeping customers satisfied
  • Better internal relationships

To You

  • More effective process
  • Learn to take criticism and use to improve
  • Provide better service internally and externally
  • Learn how to complain yourself
  • Greater job satisfaction and self-esteem
Paul Cooper

Paul Cooper

Finally, we should all be aware of the relatively new phenomenon of “feedback” via social media. This is often not specifically directed at you so that you can learn and improve, but usually aimed at the general public to point out your faults without giving you time to respond. Unfair, but a fact!

The subject is a growing issue for many, and cannot be adequately covered here, so I will develop a whole article on the subject in the coming months to address the points.

Click here to read the next article in the series.

Paul Cooper is a Director at Customer Plus

Paul won the Lifetime Achievement award at the European Call Centre Awards 2011

Published On: 29th Aug 2012 - Last modified: 23rd May 2017
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1 Comment
  1. Stumbled upon this article; must say it is an awesome read!

    Sophia 20 Dec at 12:09 pm
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