Handling complaints

8th Jun 2015


There are real benefits in prioritising and improving complaints handling:

Definition of a complaint

When a customer feels strongly enough that his or her expectations have not been met, he or she may make a complaint.

A complaint is when a customer brings a problem to the attention of the organisation and expects some redress, probably over and above simply supplying the original product or service that was the cause of the complaint.

Complaints are often used by regulators as one measure of the success of the organisation’s customer service.

In the UK Customer Satisfaction Index uses two questions to establish who has complained:

"Complainants" are defined as customers who have had a recent problem, and have told a member of staff about it. They have not necessarily lodged a formal complaint, and their issue may or may not be captured in an organisation's complaints tracking system. The research also covers 'silent sufferers' - customers who have a problem but do not report it to the organisation in question. In the research we examine the different reasons why these customers do not make a complaint even though they are dissatisfied, and the impact on their subsequent satisfaction.

The 5 rules of complaints handling for organisations

1. Have a strategic plan
Have a clear, flexible welcoming and open policy on complaints. A complaint is a gift when a customer gives up their time to help you improve your organisation.

2. Train your staff and management in complaints handling
Give them confidence to tackle the difficult customers and support in their actions. Excellent complaint handling isn't easy and can sometimes be stressful and feel unrewarding. Confirm its importance in providing great customer service.

3. Give complaining enough priority and authority
Staff should be aware that complaints are a top priority item for your operation, and anyone who deals with them must have sufficient authority to resolve them completely.

4. Ensure that you can process complaints from all sources
There are 4 main ways to complain – in person, by telephone, by mail, by email/internet. Your organisation must be able to handle all of these efficiently.

5. Set up processes to log and analyse all complaints and share with everyone
You can learn a lot about problems with internal processes, training, specific employees/managers, and product for free.

10 processes and actions for setting up your complaints handling

1. Thank the customer for complaining
Say that you are sorry that the problem has happened. This is not an admission of guilt and it does demonstrate respect for the customer.

2. Put yourself in the place of the customer
This will instantly give you an advantage, as you not only will have more empathy with the customer, but also you know your business better than them and so can hopefully see the solution quicker.

3. Start with the view that the customer has a valid point, not that he/she are trying to rip you off
It is true that there are some professional complainers, but they are in the minority. if you are a local store, you probably know them anyway. Accepting the customer may well have a point can trigger ideas for an acceptable resolution.

4. Get all the facts first
Let the customer give you all of the information. This will help you fully understand the situation and, if the customer is emotional, this will give them time to calm down. Don't offer the complainant a free gift straight away. It's very tempting to give the customer a gift, or vouchers. In many cases it is good service, but too often it is done instead of solving the problem, which can lead to more complaints about the same thing because it hasn’t been fixed.

5. Correct the mistake
All of the other suggestions are pointless if you don't fix the problem. Make sure that your definition of the right fix is the same as the customer's.

6. Learn from every complaint
Fix the process: Train staff in the issue and eliminate the fault. Wherever possible let the complaining customer know that they have helped you resolve a problem. They'll come back again and again and will probably spread the word.

7. Minimise reasons for complaints
Do you have a continuous improvement culture? Do you check customer (and employee) satisfaction regularly? Do you check the quality of the goods sold in your organisation?It costs at least 5 times as much to gain a new customer than keep an existing one, and takes 56 days on average. Keeping this complaining customer should be the top priority, and at these cost ratios you can afford to be generous in your time and effort.

8. Always respond
In person complainers hopefully always get dealt with, but make sure that everyone who complains on the telephone, by letter, or by E-mail gets a rapid and appropriate response.

9. Listen to your staff
They nearly always care about your company and doing a good job and are much closer to the customers than you are. Ask their views regularly and make changes when they are sensible. Make sure their complaints are handled too.

10. Lead by example
It's not that your staff don't listen to what you say, it’s that they do listen, so make sure that you are always setting the right example, and giving complaints your personal priority. Reward good complaints handling.

Further reading

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