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Complaint form on a desk. Complaint form on a desk with a calculator, pen, glasses, mobile phone and digital tablet.

People will always complain. The question is “Is the complaint reasonable?” If it is, then you had better be ready with your apologies, not your excuses. If it is not, then you are going to have to be diplomatic. If the customer is king in your business then you cannot afford to mismanage customer complaints. If you do it will affect your current business, repeat business, your reputation and your company’s brand.

Tough Customers

Some people complain about nothing, all the time. Others keep their mouths shut and suffer in silence. Trouble makers simply don’t care at all. Some people make verbal complaints; face-to-face, by telephone or through third parties. Other people make complaints in writing; email, letter or even through a lawyer. If you have a particularly tough customer they might even complain about you on social media. What are you going to do then?

Attentive Listening

Handling any customer communication involves attentive listening. If you listen attentively then you allow your customers to draw the conclusion “They think I am worth listening to.” This shows your sincerity. It will help you reach a positive solution to the situation. If you are faced with a verbal complaint from a customer or even more than one customer at the same time, smile. Your customers will eventually see your smile through your verbal response to them.

Be polite and aim for a compromise. Remember one dissatisfied customer can affect your whole business. You never know who you are talking to and you could face a complaint from a VIP or someone else who is important enough to affect your whole business. Standing up whilst on a telephone call gives you an unconscious sense of power. Sitting down whilst talking on the telephone does not. So if you are entering in to a verbal communication try standing up. See if you get better overall results.

Personal Communications

If you are faced with a written complaint it is often better to answer this with a verbal reply. Pick up the phone. Diffuse the situation. If that doesn’t work then be professional and write a courteous response that shows that you have listened to the complaint, taken it onboard and are offering a solution.

Posture, gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice and rate of speech are all aspects of a face-to-face encounter that will give you clues to how to effectively handle a customer complaint. If the customer complaint is a ‘try-on’ or some other kind of scam you may be deceived by emails, text messages and social media conversations that are better handled in person.

Preconceived ideas

The biggest single challenge you will face when handling a customer complaint is the bundle of preconceptions that you bring to the communication. All your previous experiences, good and bad, can distort the communication process. Two people can listen to the same conversation when handling a customer complaint and come away with entirely different impressions of what was said.

Good to Great Communications

Impatience is one of the great barriers to listening. Think of all the people who don’t let you finish your sentence or ignore what you are saying. What they are saying to you is, “You don’t matter” or “I don’t take you seriously”. People who do this, whether customers or customer services officers are ignoring the power of listening. You may and should, from time to time, organise trainings for your staff. How much training have you offered your staff in the art of attentive listening? Try up-skilling your customer service staff with an ‘Attentive Listening’ class. Or, simply monthly exercises for getting them to listen more attentively. Turn your customer service staff from good employees to great employees with some mentoring.

Handling customer complaints about your accounting software or other business software after purchase requires people skills.

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