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Mistakes don't have to be costly

Mistakes don't have to be costly

We all make mistakes. Sometimes we have the opportunity to put them right, sometimes we don't.

Your customers won't always tell you when they're unhappy, instead, they'll tell their friends, family and anyone who they can reach through various social media channels. These customers vote with their feet and are the most damaging to your business. Your churn rates increase, your ability to attract new customers is diminished and your reputation is tarnished.

Most businesses have a complaints 'procedure' or 'process' for customers to navigate. These words in themselves are enough to put some customers off from airing their concerns. For others, the time and effort it may take to complain is enough to cause them to bow out. Some don't even bother because they don't believe that the business is interested in listening. And then there are those that find it all too difficult to challenge you.

Identifying reticent complainants is no easy task. One sure way of doing this is to talk to your customers, even those that have already walked. Find out what bothers them. Ask them what causes them difficulties when doing business with you. Ask them how you've made them feel. Listen to what they have to say and make changes. Sometimes it makes for uncomfortable listening.

For those customers who are frustrated, disappointed, angry or aggrieved and who vocalise how they feel, make it easy for them to complain. Treat their feedback as a gift to your business and show them how good you really are by listening, responding, engaging, resolving and impressing them.

Dropping the ball and receiving a complaint is not a crime, we all do it. Failing to handle it correctly is - even a minor misunderstanding can be blown out of proportion if we don't handle it correctly.

If you haven't recently reviewed how you handle complaints in your business, we'd recommend that you do this right now. Here are some important points to consider when you do this:

Do you understand what your clients are saying?

Many customers don't want to be labelled as difficult or a troublemaker. They will let you know they're unhappy using different language. Your staff need to be listening out for it. Ensure that you are aware of the language your customers use and that you are able to spot a complaint.

You might hear them saying:

'I really don't like it when your company …'

'I want to give you feedback about …'

'I am unhappy about ...'

'I have been unable to sleep …'

Do you view complaints positively?

It's important to thank your customers for their feedback at the beginning of your conversations and to thank them for taking the time to help you identify where your business could improve Your customers are providing you with a fantastic opportunity. It is up to you to seize it.

Are you training your staff to handle complaints right in the first place including angry and hostile customers?

We're not talking about a process here. Training your staff to listen, respond, engage, resolve and impress your customers is about understanding emotions, behaviours, mindset and communication. Invest your training budget in this area and your business, your people and your customers will see real value. Your complaints culture should be firmly embedded within your business. In many businesses, the most recently employed and inexperienced staff are the first point of contact for your customers, help them to have a positive impact on your customers' experience too.

Is there a clear focus on a resolution for the client?

When your customers complain, it is all too easy for your staff to slip into damage limitation mode and protect the business - or sabotage another team within the business. Shift your focus. By standing in your customer's shoes you will see the complaint from a different perspective and resolve it from that perspective. Think about what you can do to make your customer feel better right now.

Are you regularly reviewing how you handle complaints to ensure that everyone is getting it right?

If you're not listening to, or observing how your staff handle customer complaints, it's easy for the business to revert back into viewing the complaint from the company perspective and not the customer's perspective. Encourage your staff to give each other feedback, ensure refresher training is available (not just the process!) and consider introducing rewards for handling complaints well.

Do you give your customer facing staff responsibility to resolve complaints in the first instance?

Your customers will love you for it, with training your staff will feel valued, and your business will gain valuable insights into what really matters to your customers.

Do you regularly review your complaints?

Reacting to problems and issues is necessary in business. Reviewing your complaints records will enable you to adapt to the changing needs of your customers. Very often, your most difficult customers can help you to find a solution to whatever is niggling you right now. Your customers are only a great resource if you engage, listen and act on what they're saying.

Are your teams working collaboratively with other teams within your business to resolve complaints?

There's a lot that can be learned from pooling ideas. There's also a lot that can be lost through lack of collaboration. To your customers, your business is one team. They should not be involved in any internal politics or inconsistencies between departments. Your staff should demonstrate a commitment to resolving all complaints seamlessly.

Are your staff encouraged to share customers individual stories with senior managers - not just the problem, but the impact it's had?

Staff often feel frustrated by their inability to influence senior managers to implement change following customer feedback or complaints. Complaints often merge into statistics during Senior Team Meetings and the emotion and impact from the customers perspective is lost.

Sharing a customer's story, personalising it and highlighting the emotion behind it - why it matters will have greater impact within your business.

Instead of reporting that there were 6 low level complaints last week, a story like this would have more impact:

'On Thursday, Mrs Stevens was crying on the phone. She works full time and is only able to call us in her lunch hour. She had called on Wednesday and been offered a call back. No-one did. On Thursday, it took her 30 minutes to get to speak to the person dealing with her enquiry. She hadn't slept on Wednesday night worrying about how she would get this matter resolved.'

Do you include 'complaints' on the agenda in team meetings?

Complaints should always be a hot topic for discussion during team meetings. If you don't have many, look again. Your customers are constantly giving feedback, are your staff missing the cues? What can you do to ensure that common themes are identified and changes to processes, policy or behaviour are implemented?

Are you actively looking for reticent complainants?

These are the customers we talked about earlier. They've already walked, they think you won't listen or they're sharing their stories at every opportunity on social media. We could write a whole book on how to find these. A good place to start would be to contact customers who no longer do business with you and find out why. It's surprising how much they will share. Win these customers back and they will be some of the best ambassadors your business could have.

In every business, all team members should know how to handle customer complaints and the impact their behaviour has on their customers experience.

'How well a company is doing now is measured in sales; how well a company will do in future is measured by client satisfaction.'

Anderson, Fornell and Lehmann carried out research into the economic benefits of improving customer satisfaction - they determined that for every 1% per year increase in customer satisfaction over a five-year period, there is a cumulative increase of 11.5% in net profitability. The findings support the idea that improved service increases customer satisfaction and, in turn, profitability.

We love working with clients who have a head for business and a heart for people. If you have any questions, comments or would like any help, please do get in touch 

We explore this more widely in our book Trusted - you'll find a free chapter download if you follow the link